Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

About God….

 

About God....
Proof that not all ideas are good ideas.

Click here to view this author’s refreshing ideas about God’s nature and personhood. The author, who apparently is or was associated with MIT—student? professor? staff?—makes no mention of Jesus, so I deduce she or he is not a Christ-follower. And the author’s reference to C.S. Lewis’ insightful thoughts on generic devotion indicate a respect for at least one Christian’s ideas.

This is a good read, with but a shadow of new-age philosophy, and though it is a bit lengthy, reading to the end will reward you with some true wisdom. Thanks for your insights, O nameless contributor.

Conservative Actors and Other Oddities

Wonder of wonders, a Cool Guy Conservative

The Hollywood in-crowd might be called the Liberal Club. It’s like a high school social clique where the movers and shakers hold so much sway that the little people try to be popular by association. The litmus for acceptance to the clique is how well you can humorously slander President Reagan without being brought up on sedition charges. Only the Charlton Hestons of Hollywood dare spurn the liberals, knowing they will become the butt of endless jokes, yet without responding in kind. Can you imagine Heston getting all bitchy about the ridicule? That’s the Liberal Way, not the way of real people.

Speaking of ridicule, have you ever noticed how social liberals react to valid criticism? Name-calling and personal slurs are their specialty, rather like junior high school girls.

I was surprised at how many conservative—that’s a euphemism for Republican—actors there are: Jimmy Stewart. Gene Autry. Cary Grant. Ronald Reagan. Gary Cooper. But wait, I used the present tense in my introduction for conservative actors. I’m afraid the list gets much shorter with that qualification. Let’s see, there’s Adam Sandler, Chuck Norris, Kelsey Grammer, James Caan, Drew Carey … the list goes on to 143, most of whom are new to me, but I’m far from being an authority on celebrities.

And what is a celebrity, anyway? Celebrity comes from celebrate, and I’ve scarcely seen any reason to celebrate most celebrities, unless their stupid choices deserve accolades. Yes, many of them are competent performers, but by that standard shouldn’t a talented physician, machinist, or policeman be celebrated as well?

Of course, you’ve found this tirade on a Christian blog, so maybe I’d better include some Christianistic commentary. One of my pet peeves is the inextricable link between Evangelical Christians and political conservatism. Dubbed the Christian Right, I find myself asking, “What are they right about?” Yes, there are the watershed issues like government supported abortion and school prayer (a non-issue since the early ’60s), on which virtually all Evangelical Christians align themselves to the conservative side, but what about the Second Amendment controversy? True Christ-followers are personal pacifists (as opposed to those who refuse to take arms for any reason) because the New Testament doesn’t command, or even condone, violence for personal reasons. Many will argue that the “turn-the-other-cheek” command applied only to Bible-times, when the Roman occupiers persecuted those who refused to worship the Caesar, and perhaps they’re right. But the line I hear from Christian, Second Amendment supporters smacks strongly of a militant attitude, illustrated by the, “… cold, dead fingers” bumper stickers. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to defend our rights, but rather to die to self, which includes the rights we hold so dearly.

My friend Steve submitted a valuable qualifier to the issue of Christ-followers taking up arms. He pointed out that we must prepare to defend others’ rights. This is an issue where we must be in touch with our inner motives. Where anger or pride motivate our taking up arms, it is sin. And where our pure motives require armed resistance, we must maintain vigilance over our motives lest the sin of self corrupt our witness and dim our light.

No doubt I’ll catch some flack about that position, but I believe it’s Biblical. And everyone has a right to his opinion. Right?

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."
“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we right-wing fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears, and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out of the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as, “we love because he first loved us.”

The southern sheriff was right, “Da law is da law,” and for those of us whom Christ bought with his his very life, that is the law of love.

Paletool’s Bulls Eye

The (no doubt) Copyrighted Instructables Bot

I don’t usually expect to find quotables on instructables dot com, but this is one I have to share. Though the above link is for instructions on building bamboo arrows, the author gave some interesting social insight:

I firmly believe that in Preindustrial Societies, the onus of learning was on the pupil. Anyone who wants to succeed will find a way to learn.

Real learning is an active endevor. We learn best by carefully observing and doing. There will be failures. There will be frustration and tears. Not everything will be obvious nor will the reason for every step be readily apparent. It is not the duty of the teacher to drag every unwilling pupil along nor argue every point to their satisfaction every step of the way. Failure is not something to fear but is something to learn from. If you don’t like the teacher or the methods, either suck it up or find another teacher.

by paletool

I completely agree with Mr. Paletool, but for one point: The entitlement attitude among students did not begin with the industrial age. Neither is it limited to the manual and academic arts.

Christ’s students of today, still known as disciples, stand under Apostle Paul’s clear command: Do your best to present yourself to God tried and approved, an irreproachable worker, setting forth the unaltered word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) Though Timothy was a preacher, Paul’s words bind the rest of us rank-and-file disciples just as firmly, mandating our obedience to his unaltered word of truth.

If I seem to harp on the word “unaltered,” I do so for good reason. Wherever we turn, we’re faced with conflicting claims about what the Bible teaches, often preached quite forcefully and with flashy showmanship. A popular pulpit-trend is preaching from Bible paraphrases, some with more interpretation than truth. Another is preaching from the KJV without explanations of what the archaic words really mean, or worse, using such misinterpreted words as the bases for wrong teachings.  Each of us, however, bear the sacred responsibility to discern for ourselves the truth of what we hear from the pulpit. To do that, we must constantly pursue an intimate relationship with God, and consume his Word on our own, regularly, broadly, and in depth, allowing his Holy Spirit to speak to us through it.

“Oh, but I’m just a layperson, not trained in Bible stuff.”

Not to worry, babe in Christ. You don’t have to know everything about God’s Word to develop an effective B.S. (Bible Slander) detector, but you must care enough start climbing that learning curve now. And if you really don’t care a whole lot, why did you read this far?

Pitfalls

On Monday, June second, Our Daily Bread presented, “The Careful Walk,” in which Dave Branon built on Ephesians 5:15 to show that we must be careful where we step in life.

For Christians, this material world is enemy territory, ruled by the prince of the power of the air. We should be among the most circumspect of people, for as long as we walk in these mortal bodies we’re the enemy’s target. One of his best strategies is to use his darkness (lies) to confuse us; as he is the father of lies, he’s so good at it that he blinds even the most careful of Christ-followers occasionally.

The best defense against darkness is a great flashlight with batteries that never wear out. God was good enough to provide us with both a lamp for our feet and a light for our path, all in one.

Today’s warfare threatens us with land mines, IEDs, snipers, and biological weapons, but the first century threat was arrows and swords. That’s why Apostle Paul told us to don God’s whole armor, that we might stand against the devil’s schemes.

So we see three essential aspects of survival in our enemy’s territory: Carefully assemble and put on the armor God has provided, walk circumspectly, and don’t forget to use God’s inexhaustible flashlight when your next step seems a bit shadowy. Or use it anyway, as natural light is often not as good as it seems. Climbing out of life’s pits can be really hard.

Like Math

Have you ever noticed that studying Apostle Paul’s letters are like studying math? Yes, math class requires some memorization of math facts—those are the annoying sums, times tables, axioms and theorems—but math’s heart lies in its concepts, which must be learned step-by-step. Miss one concept, and the rest won’t make sense.

To be understood, the church must teach God’s word in the same way. Isaiah, after decrying the tribe of Ephraim’s cavalier attitude toward teaching God’s word in chapter twenty-eight, declares to their shame how they would be taught by their enemies.

Isaiah 28:11-14 For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the LORD will speak to this people, (12) to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. (13) And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (14) Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem!

We too, often treat God’s gospel in the same way, harping on John 3:16 til the world vomits it out as too much of a good thing. While they will never give us the opportunity to teach them systematic theology, our example of God’s love toward one another, and toward the unlovable, will win them over before mentioning Jesus’ beloved words.

Once they come to faith in Christ, can we then bomb them with all our Christian rules and regulations?

No way! After they’ve tasted the gospel’s milk and allowed it to bring them new life, we must first love them as advertised. Then we must spoon-feed them “precept upon precept,” until they graduate to God’s red meat.

Thing is, though large Bible study classes familiarize the church with God’s word, nurturing new believers through them is a logistical nightmare. That’s like trying to teach trig to first graders. Instead, we must disciple them individually or in small groups, beginning with God’s most basic truths and working through the hard teachings, til they are ready to disciple others. As that’s the way of both math teachers and Jesus, we’d do well to follow their example.

Christianism

We don’t often see that term used in reference to the Christian religion, but it was once fairly common. An Internet dictionary defines Christianism as the set of tenets held by all Christians. I would that it were true.

You’ll find that in this blog I regularly pan religious Christianity. Unlike many who hate any reference to God or the supernatural, I’m quite selective in my irreverence, loving the Christ of Christianism, but hating what Christians have made it. Oh, I attend a Christian fellowship, and love the folks I’ve come to know there, but my worship and devotion to Christ doesn’t depend on them, or their religious practices and traditions. I am a member of Christ’s body, but not of any religious institution.

You could say Christianity was instituted by Christ, and is thus a valid religious institution. But would you be correct? What exactly did Christ institute? To avoid “words of Christ only” nitpicking, I’ll refer only to the New Testament’s “red” words.

One major Christian denomination claims to be the only religion instituted by Christ, based on Matthew 16:18-19. Yet, as with all religions that make rash claims, their Scriptural exegesis goes only as deep as their chosen translation’s language. Instead of taking their claims at face value, let’s look at the Bible’s standard of judgment:

Speaking to the religious leaders as recorded in Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, … you will recognize them by their fruits. … A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. … Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Historic Christendom has done many great things, but it is also responsible for the Crusades and the religious inquisitions, where millions were forced to convert, or face dire consequences.

Next, in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus focuses on those who will try to offer him their religious works, but of course, he will see right through them. “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” So, even “good” works can be evil in his sight if they aren’t based on God’s Word.

Then Jesus spoke of the house built upon the rock, as recorded in Matthew 7:24-27. The wise man used the same building materials as the foolish man, but built his house on the rock of Jesus’ words, listened to and applied to his life. Simply apply this parable to Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16, and we can see that the rock upon which Jesus built his church was the rock of his words, and not just one man named Peter.

I’ve just dealt with the tip of the denominational iceberg here, not trying to debunk all false, Christian religion, but using these examples to illustrate the spirit of presumption that stains so much of Christianism. There are faithful Christ-followers in most “Christian” denominations and sects, who are serving as salt and light where they are, rather than seeking out religious perfection. My point here is that there is no such thing as religious perfection, and devotion to God must go to the source, the Lord Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis, On Keeping God Out of the Box, and Ourselves In It

TO MRS. JOHNSON: On God’s unique way with each soul, even in the pattern of conversion; and on various Christian nonessentials.

2 March 1955

It is right and inevitable that we should be much concerned about the salvation of those we love. But we must be careful not to expect or demand that their salvation should conform to some ready-made pattern of our own. Some Protestant sects have gone very wrong about this. They have a whole programme of ‘conviction’, ‘conversion,’ et cetera, marked out, the same for everyone, and will not believe that anyone can be saved who doesn’t go through it ‘just so’. But (see the last chapter of Problem of Pain) God has His own unique way with each soul.

There is no evidence that St. John even underwent the same kind of ‘conversion’ as St. Paul. It’s not essential to believe in the devil; and I’m sure a man can get to Heaven without being accurate about Methuselah’s age. Also, as (George) MacDonald says, ‘the time for saying comes seldom, the time for being is always there.’ What we practice, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Though my title deviates from that of Bible Gateway’sI think I’m not too far off. All of us sport opinions about everything we encounter, certainly not the least of which is religious doctrine. All religious fundamentalists believe there is one Truth. The problem arises when each-and-every-blessed-one believes their personal version of that truth is the only God-ordained Truth, and anyone who disagrees is an infidel, headed for eternal perdition. And some fundamentalists feel divinely commissioned to help said infidels along their way.

As the above excerpt comes from a Christian perspective, many good Christians will take offense at Lewis’ position as being relativistic, which proves my point rather well. One would be well advised to observe Jesus’ practice concerning doctrinal debate: As far as I can remember, he only engaged in such debate once (please bear with me if I’m wrong), which is recorded in Matthew 22:23-33, and unlike our debates, involved anything but a trivial matter.

Now, to the box in which we should confine ourselves: the Christ-shaped box for which unbelievers are searching. Many boxes exist, making their search akin to finding a needle-in-a-haystack, or more appropriately, a box in a warehouse. All but a precious few of those millions of boxes are mislabeled, which makes the search seem impossible, and explains why so many searchers have given up.

So, why can’t we just be what we say we are, Christ-followers?

Oswald Chambers on Christian Rights

The Sermon on the Mount indicates that when we are on a mission for Jesus Christ, there is no time to stand up for ourselves. Jesus says, in effect, “Don’t worry about whether or not you are being treated justly.” Looking for justice is actually a sign that we have been diverted from our devotion to Him. Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it. If we look for justice, we will only begin to complain and to indulge ourselves in the discontent of self-pity, as if to say, “Why should I be treated like this?” If we are devoted to Jesus Christ, we have nothing to do with what we encounter, whether it is just or unjust. In essence, Jesus says, “Continue steadily on with what I have told you to do, and I will guard your life. If you try to guard it yourself, you remove yourself from My deliverance.” Even the most devout among us become atheistic in this regard—we do not believe Him. We put our common sense on the throne and then attach God’s name to it. We do lean on our own understanding, instead of trusting God with all our hearts (see Proverbs 3:5-6).

Our culture of self-interest has coined the catch-phrase, “Not my problem.” Chambers seems to agree with that sentiment, but in a somewhat different context. The cultural sense is self-centered, while for Christ-followers it is, or should be, God-centered.

Justice and fairness fall at the top of everyone’s personal priority list, as long as we are on their receiving end. Administering justice and fairness, however, typically falls somewhat lower on that list, even for Christ-followers.

Certain elements in God’s church concern themselves almost exclusively with their, “God-given rights,” and they’re prepared to defend them with their lives. They call themselves Patriots, meaning, “defenders of the Constitution,” or, “proud to be an American.” Many Christians equate patriotism with defending the faith, by force of arms if necessary.

Now, I may be nuts, but I can’t recall any New Testament command to take up arms in defense of Christ. In fact, Jesus said just the opposite:Matthew 26: 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” And in Luke’s account, Jesus underscored his message of love by healing the man’s ear.

As Jesus usually spoke from the eternal perspective, I suspect he meant by “perish,” a far greater significance than mere physical death. Whether or not that is strictly true, we would likely profit by taking his words under advisement.

But, what of patriotic pride? As I’ve often said, “I” is at the center of pride, and sin. Personally, I’m immensely thankful for having been born in this country, but as I didn’t have much choice in my birthplace, I don’t have much ground for pride in that fact. Am I proud of America? You bet I am, to the extent that it seeks the high moral ground. Unfortunately, though, there hasn’t been much of that seeking lately.

As Christ-followers, we must maintain different priorities from those of the world. The prayer attributed to St. Francis has become almost cliché, but it accurately summarizes God’s expressed will for Christ-followers:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.