"Our Achilles heel is the compass of our spiritual journey. Where I am weak, there-by God's grace-I become strong. When we discover what our basic weakness or woundedness is, or our basic handicap, then we ask for God's presence and grace to enter that place. . .
A broken bone, once healed, is stronger than one which has never been broken".
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Frankl's observations are fascinating.
First, he defines despair. What really is the condition of despair? According to Frankl the word can be best defined through a simple mathematical formula: D=S-M. Despair is suffering minus meaning. Frankl observed that those who could not make any sense of their suffering turned to one of three poisons: anger, depression or denial. Each of these toxins lead to a slow death by despair. So, despite what we often think in our plush, comfortable worlds today, it is NOT suffering or difficult circumstances that rob us of hope and plunge us into dispair. It is the absence of meaning.
In fact, Frankl witnessed and personally experienced people going through the same horrendous ordeals who did not turn to despair. One the contrary, some individuals became more wonderful and more loving human beings precisely because of their adverse conditions. They became people of greater hope! Why is that? It was not that they were ransomed from their circumstances. Rather, it was that they found ways to make sense of this world within those difficulties. They were able to see a more ultimate purpose and meaning to life that others could not. And, that purpose formed their character and framed their thinking in ways that transcended their circumstances.
The apostle Paul and Victor Frankl seemingly were on to the same thing. I'd love to be in a room listening to them muse over this topic. Paul, in Romans 8, reverberates the same findings as Frankl. Read the text. In Romans 8 Paul explains that he is able to legitimize his present suffering and the creation's sufferings (groanings) because Jesus himself, the living God of the universe has entered our mess and salvaged our pain. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah infuses meaning into the madness of this present reality we call life.
According to Paul, suffering is the normal and consequential reality of a sin cursed world. But, because of Jesus, it is only seasonal. Yes, the present pain is great. Yes, it looks like the whole world is groaning. Yes, our suffering is real. But, it's not an empty pain and it's not an eternal pain. Our suffering is not random or purposeless. Because of Jesus Christ, the pain of the world is more like. . . birthpains. . .Yeah, weird metaphor coming from a guy (Paul) who is well. . .a guy.
But, catch the significance of the birthpain metaphor. Birth is always pain with a purpose. Labor has an ultimate goal. The blood and sweat and tears in the delivery room will culminate in new creation! Ever see a women in labor without hope? Of course not. Why? Because there is ultimate meaning behind her suffering. The pain is unbearable without the anticipation of new life.
For Paul and Frankl, there's hope, because there is infused within creation a something deeper and more powerful than human suffering. And, that which is deeper and rings with more potency is the gospel message itself.
Both the cross and the resurrection inject meaning and hope into human suffering. The meaning behind Good Friday is that our God has strangely entered our suffering, legitimizing and sympathizing with our pain at once. The meaning behind Easter Sunday is that he has overcome all suffering, redeeming and ransoming us from death and despair. Sundays promise is that he will make all things new. What a promise!
Because of the gospel hope is free to roam in the most unusual and unlikely places. Places like Golgotha and Nazi Concentration camps.
The backdrop to all our smaller stories and days of despairing is one grand story that provides purpose and meaning and a way to make sense of it all. And, that meaning is not found in a system or a thought or a solution, idea or philosophy. None of those things bring meaning to our suffering.
No, the meaning to human suffering is found in a person who entered it and has come out the other side vindicated and unscathed. And, now he mediates on our behalf. Jesus the King, our savior, brings hopeful meaning to our senseless suffering. His suffering and death was redeemed. Ours will be too. May His name be praised!
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Once the gospel gets a hold of your life, you quickly realize that it's not simply the truth of Christ and the objective source of salvation that we look towards. Yes, indeed it is that. But, it is more. The gospel itself pulls us into a larger story of Creation, fall and redemption. It has the power to ransom us from our smaller self-made stories and place us into the light of the way that things are really. Gospel people are people who have a radically different lens that they see through. And, this lens impacts the way that we see God, ourselves, others and this world.
Is your gospel simply a gospel that you look to in your time of need? Or is it a gospel that you also look through? A gospel that penetrates so deep that all of life and reality are seen through its lens.
We talk today about a Christian worldview, but the tendency in the Church today is to neatly fit God into our own eclectic, self-made worldviews. The problem is that God cannot be packaged and perceived through the lenses of our choice. He will not allow His holiness, goodness and love to be hijacked and used for our own purposes. His gospel can only truly save us when we allow His world, His story, His reality to penetrate us. Anything less than that reduces the gospel and cheapens the cross.
If you have the time, I highly recommend listening to Tim Keller's teaching on "Writing from a Christian Worldview". You don't have to be a writer to take this stuff in. It's HIGLY applicable and necessary for everyone who calls themselves a Christian.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Imagine a right-handed person penning his own autobiography. In the middle of the story a doctor diagnoses the writer with severe arthritics in the right hand. His condition is so debilitating it will create permanent paralysis if the writing continues. The only sensible solution is to stop using that hand. "But", the eager author pleads to the doctor, "I'm in the middle of penning my own life story. I can't quit now. I was born to write."
Now, imagine if you will, the doctor contacting the writer and stating that the author could continue his masterpiece, but must learn to write with his left hand.
After much thought the decision is made to surrender to the doctors orders. He dies to the use of his right-hand forever, and for the first time in his life places the pen in the other hand and begins penning his first sentence.
As the pen touches the paper, it feels quite awkward. His hand shakes. It's uncomfortable and the tendency is to default back to the old way of doing things. It requires much concentration and intention and effort and energy and patience to even get through one paragraph. As he continues, the preceding pages look real messy. Hardly legible.
If the implications of the gospel you believe in doesn't feel abnormal, uncomfortable or counter-intuitive to your natural leanings, then you may not be fully embracing the gospel according to Jesus. The gospel changes everything. And, we feel how against the grain it really is when we start living like Jesus did.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Yet, is Christian community today made up of the stuff of Golgotha? Does it look like blood, sweat, tears or grime for the sake of loving relationship? Too often our love is safe, sanitized and benign. Is it true grit love? Or simply sanctuary sentimentality? Too often I fear it is the later.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Remember that song Bette Midler used to sing called "From a Distance"? "God is watching us, God is watching us, from a distance". Good tune. Poor theology. The first sectarian threat is Deism. Deism depersonalizes God and serves as a serious threat to a life of prayer. Deists believe that God is the Creator and sustainer of this universe, but is distant from His creation.
Like a grand clock maker, He designed and wound up this universe, but now it's sort of left it alone to tick on its own. His involvement in the day to day affairs of men is limited to let's say "emergency life and death sorts of situations". Overall, he lets this earth alone and is somewhat aloof from our personal lives. Is this your understanding or view of God? Distant, somewhat too aloof to take notice or be involved in the stuff of your life? If so, you are not alone. Recent research done by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith indicates that a group of people dubbed by Smith as "moralistic, therapeutic deists" comprise the largest segment of young adults in America. (Check out http://johnortberg.com/?p=56 for more information).
Deism, or some abridged version of it, is alive and well in America. And, one sign and symptom of deism is a feeble prayer life. And, that makes sense. After all, if we transform God into a remote being out there who has little to nothing to do with our personal lives, the logical conclusion is that prayer is an exercise in futility. Of course, the God of Deism is not the God of the apostle Paul in Ephesians whose prayers glorify the love and power of a God who is at work in us. Paul's God is Emmanuel. A word meaning "God with us". Is your God Emmanuel? Or is He distant, aloof, removed sort of God?
Threat #2 Gnosticism
Secondly, prayer is threatened by Gnosticism. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that has re-emerged throughout church history and is alive and well today. Philip Lee, a scholar who has studied gnosticism in depth, discusses five primary elements of this ancient heresy. I've summarized some of Lee's thoughts below.
• Gnosticism embraces a deep chasm between body and spirit. Essentially Gnosticism is dualism. It believes that the spirit-world, the invisible is inherently GOOD. And the creation, the visible, created of the flesh world is inherently BAD.
• Gnosticism believes there is a secret lore, a special knowledge (gnosis) that can save us from this hopeless condition of the body/flesh. However, it requires a certain pathway/method to discover.
• Gnosticism always leads to escapism. It urges us to remove ourselves (mentally, spiritually) from this world and get in touch with the true world of the Spirit. Often results in privatized, over-preoccupation with self. Each person must be his/her own guide.
• Gnosticism holds that this secret knowledge is known only to the “elite” who attain this inner knowledge and the methods of tapping into this knowledge.
• Gnosticism believes that enlightenment is the private pursuit of each individual. Each adherent to its teachings are free to discover truth as he/she sees fit and is not subject to the accountability of a community or the guidelines of an authoritative text.
As you notice above, gnosticism's goal becmes the personal pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment, instead of the pursuit of a personal God. The ultimate blessing of gnosticism is not someone, but a something. God is that impersonal, mysterious force that we can "tap" into that unlocks the right doors and opens the right corridors to enlightenment. Another way of saying it? God is the means to an end. Not the end itself.
Do we not see this kind of heresy alive and well around us today? God becomes a means to our own private, personal pursuit of self-actualization. We see this in many forms both inside and outside of Christian circles. Gnostic prayers are not true prayers because all true prayer must be sourced in the personal and the relational.
We see this in Paul in Ephesians. He clings to a relational God and lifts up his prayers in a deeply relational way both to God and on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Christian prayer must always be marinated in the personal. . .in the relational. If not, we will miss God entirely. Stated a different way, Christian prayer must always be informed by the incarnation. That is to say, that our prayers always mouthed towards a God who entered our mundane and small messes through Jesus Christ. He is a God who does not reveal himself to only a select few who now hold the secret instructions to "tap" into Him. No. The Christian God is a God who enters into human history in the most personal of all ways...as a person Himself! Our God's deepest desire is to get personal with us. . .his creation. And so, He became a living, breathing, human to show us how up-close and personal He really is. He is a God "which we have heard with our ears, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have touched with our hands" (I Jn. 1:1,2). Gnostic's know such God. In search for rapturous, mysterious someTHING they overlook the personal someONE.
Deist? Gnostic? Christian? Take a close inventory and assess where you find yourself. Our prayer life does indeed reflect the kind of God we worship.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Here's a link to a great blog post that epitomizes removing the props we have come to depend upon and beginning to see that which is unseen. Enjoy the clip. . .and the post.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
A recent post by John Ortberg (http://johnortberg.com/?p=64 ) reminded me that changing the world is not in my primary job description as a disciple. And, good thing for the world too, because I'd probably do a lousy job at global transformation. Truthfully, all worldwide moving and shaking is God-sized stuff, and probably best left His hands, not ours. That's not to say that we have no part in world change. But our primary task is not to change the world.
Ortberg highly recommends a new book by James Hunter entitled "To Change the World". In it, Hunter argues, that the primary role of God's people throughout history has never been to change the world. . .that's always been God's job. . Our role? According to Hunter, to be a faithful presence within culture God has placed us. Often, in our Christian past, our agendas and ambitions to change the world has led to "Christian conquest" in the name of Jesus, without the marks of Jesus like humility, grace and love.
Not a world-mover. Not a conquering king. Simply a faithful presence. A Faithful Presence? I know what you are thinking. That's so. . .so boring. So wimpy. So passive. Yes, so it appears. That is until we flesh out what being a faithful presence actually looks like. As we jump into the skin of a life that embodies a "faithful presence" kind of life, we find anything but boring, wimpy, passive lives. We find Daniel in Babylon. What was this young man if not a faithful presence? How about Joseph? Hard to change the world in the slammer. Fortunately, God had not called him to change the world, but to simply be a faithful presence of God under years of lock and key. We see through the lens of faithful presence Noah, Esther, Job, Ruth, Simeon and Mary. We find the DNA of faithful presence in the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles. . .all called by God to be a faithful presence of simple obedience, often in cultures that despised, ignored and rejected the call of God.
When we set our sights on changing the world our heart might be in the right place, but our focus is in the wrong direction. Being a faithful presence means that our target, our focus, our primary aim is being who God has called us to be and doing what He has called us to do. And, that is enough for God. Because, the lives of the saints ensure us that God will use our faithful presence as a catalyst for His kingdom, so that He can receive the glory for changing our world.
Haven't read Hunter's book yet, but the excerpts I've read about his book look fantastic. Has anyone out there picked up the book? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.