Monday, April 30, 2012

False Tension

"Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ..."  Colossians 2

There's a tension and a mystery that I've accepted that really isn't supposed to be a tension or a mystery.  It's the fact of ongoing sin in a believer's life.

Let me explain.  This Christian life gets me down.  I'm always expecting to turn a corner and become a real Christian.  I wait for a magical touch from God, a moment in time when I completely let go of my sinful habits and addictions and live fully for Christ.  The victorious Christian life is what I want.  And when I have it, I think I won't have to wrestle with the issue of assurance anymore.  The gospels gone all topsy-turvy on me.

Our neighbors were over the other day, and one mentioned that the problem for every Christian is ongoing sin.  He'd been "saved" into a victorious Christian community, one which accepted God's forgiveness on the cross as a starting point and then sought victory.

My guess is it was hardly a Christian community.  When Christians find they can't live without sin, they put up rules, and when they break the rules, they either make more or go into hiding.  Christians, since they're human, are absolute experts at hiding, and not only that but we'll use the Christian religious language to spiritualize certain sins.  And don't even get me started on Americanized Christianity again, that praises over-work, self-righteousness, numbers and charts, charisma, shovenism, wealth, status and everything external.

But the sort of community my neighbor was involved in left no room to really deal with ongoing sin.  And as I've been thinking about it, I don't either.  I say stuff like, "One day I will be free from this sin struggle, but for now I have to live in the tension of the 'now but not yet.'  It's a mystery that I continue to sin.  I must just not be grateful enough for my salvation to stop sinning."

There's truth in the statement above, but the core thing I'm beginning to realize is that apart from Christ, sin is all we know.  Oh I do see goodness, but it's from afar in most cases.

Another thing I'm realizing is that sin stems from not believing in God's love.  So this whole "now but not yet"  can be used as a dismissive way of getting rid of the problem of continued sin and not really dealing with the issue.

The issue is God's unbelievable love and mercy.  I believe that God loves me, barely.  I've had very personal and empirical experiences of God's love, not to mention knowing the story of the cross my entire life.  But the root of sin, my lack of belief that I am indeed loved, which includes being love-able, has eluded me for the longest time.

This is where the gospel gets really radical.  Ongoing sin is not a problem for the Christian.  Ongoing sin is to be expected.  Sin is all the Christian used to know.  Ongoing sin is the norm.

Belief in forgiveness, radical love and acceptance, perfect righteousness, is the exception.  But it's what I press on to understand.  It is what drives me to write.  It is what I hope is the really real.  It's what I've tasted.  And it is why the gospel just gets better and better and better the deeper I go.

My hope needs to shift towards God and away from "sin-management."  I want to grow deeper into his grace, deeper into his love, and if this means that I have to sin like a wild man outwardly, let it be.  To know God is the Christian's goal.

If this truth strikes home, ongoing sin is not the main problem, rather lack of true knowledge and the love that cuts away at our self-sufficiency, self-pride, self-hate and self-fear is the problem.  In the gospel we are freed from the greatest sin - our self-love problem.

Can we begin loving ourselves like God loves us and move away from loving ourselves like he doesn't?


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The News

I've been listening to the news on NPR a lot recently.  Besides depressing me and giving me a headache, it's got  me thinking about justice.  Justice, what is it?  And justice, where is it?

I'm not even sure I want to write about this stuff right now, because I don't want to get more depressed.  The nature of the news seems to be that the more morbid, the more vile, the more sordid, the more add-you-ugly-descriptor-here, THE BETTER!  We love this stuff, so the news dishes it up by the Bob-Cat load (I fantasize about owning a Bob-Cat a lot, owning lots of land and building trails and jumps and biking my life away.  Right now it wouldn't fit in my garage.)

But back to justice, God knows what it is right?  And as our culture seems to get more and more barbaric, I imagine that we'll be asking this question a lot.

What does it mean that "God's justice and love kiss at the cross"?  What does justice it entail?  My simple take on it is that justice is when things are made right and are made good - like a cool glass of water in the desert.

Is news media simply neutral?  I don't believe it is, because they report what we want to hear.  And the more our fascination with the opposite of justice grows, the more they feed us.  In a sense, you could say that even the news is unjust:  What's bad becomes good, what's wrong is stated as the way it is, and the consumer (me in this case) loses a sense for goodness, rightness and the way things should be.

There's tons that could and has been written on this, and I'll admit that I'm not all that deep when it comes to social critique, but even I can tell that what the news reports is not only making me sick but is a symptom of my sickness.

Since I don't listen to the news much, I'm the kind of guy that people love to interview on the street with questions like "Is Mexico going to become a new US State in the coming presidential election?  Yes or No?"  But part of me (the not simply lazy part) does not listen to the news, because one human cannot hear or see so much of hell and not be effected.

Which makes me wonder, what will the news be like in heaven?        

Monday, April 23, 2012

Suspect the Good

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." - 2 Corinthians 3: somewhere

Last night I was reading a book called "Mastering the Skills of Mountain Biking" (imagine that!) when I read this line:  "If you're looking to become a great mountain biker to validate your sense of self-worth, good luck.  It won't fill that hole in your soul."

As I'd skipped my devotions yesterday, as well as the day before, and know that I was once again bowing down to my personal idol of self-gratification, supplicating to the gods of biking to give me worth or at least a little satisfaction and joy, one simple thought ran through my head -  "Yike."  To be pinned by a "secular" book like this was more than a little humiliating.  It was flat out confusing...

Why do I, having my real answer to real self-worth, real fulfillment and real joy, all really wrapped up in a real individual, a real God, and a REAL reality, really forget so really quickly, really?!  I mean come on!  Really?

I've heard my condition called "spiritual amnesia" and I guess that fits, but the problem is that I don't so much forget as I willfully set aside my relationship with God to pursue other stuff.  I willingly dismiss my only hope.  I think I'd call it being "spiritually challenged" or "spiritually stupid."  That's definitely what I am.

Now another part of my condition is self-condemnation.  My pride likes this: "Break out your whips and get yourself ship-shape.  You've got this."  But this has never worked for me.  Nope.

Nope, nope, nope.  The only answer I've found to not validating my own sense of self-worth and patching the hole in my soul with accomplishments, accolades and stuff, is this: "One thing I have asked, one thing I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple."  Even as I type this I'm thinking, "Yeah right, I hardly ever 'gaze upon this beauty.'  What am I talking about?"

However, setting my doubts aside, I've got to recognize the reality of the Gospel.  The Gospel says that I can and do gaze upon this beauty, since I have a completely unveiled face to face relationship with God.  It sounds absurd doesn't it?  To good to be true.  Impossible.

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

I believe that when the Gospel is so good that I begin to suspect that my suspicions are too good, perhaps even heretical,  I think I'm headed in the right direction.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gospel Swagger

"Gospel confidence" - What is it?  I've been thinking about this a lot recently.  What does it mean to be satisfied and confident in the Good News, or more to the point, how can I be satisfied and confident in the Good News. 

As I was just reading 1 Thessalonians, I hear Paul hinting at what the Gospel can do:  "We remember you work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."  Faith, love and hope.  Sound familiar?

Sometimes I wish it sounded more familiar.  I often wish that faith, hope and love were the core realities of my life.  My life so often resembles lack of faith, hopelessness and hate, and I feel left as a creature who's disobedient, sad and angry all the time.

But here's where I believe "gospel confidence" comes from.  It comes from a growing realization of our union with Jesus Christ.  Paul's fond memory culminates with "hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."  And this Jesus is God's word incarnate, God's word become flesh, God's word with us.  I am Super-Glued to the word of God, my destiny is Super-Glued to Jesus.

Later in the letter Paul expresses his thanks that "when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe."  Paul seems to be reminding the Thessalonians that this good word from God is really doing it's thing.  It's going to work guys, just be patient.  "Trust in the Super-glue, it will hold."

To the want-it-all-now, must-have, me-me culture of Phil, Paul seems to be saying, "If you want gospel confidence you've got to be patient and embrace the gospel words."  In the gospel words I hear that "God himself, the God of peace, (will) sanctify you through and through."  My spirit, my "whole spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."  

Why and how Paul?  Because the "one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it."  Now this is the kind of stuff that even though I may see the canyon of my own depravity, will produce a little gospel swagger.  And if not a gospel swagger, there is the chance that I'll get my fingers stuck together for the rest of eternity.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Honestly, I'm honestly wondering what honesty is anymore, honestly.  I was sipping on my large Dunkin' Donut's iced coffee, imbibing all sorts of sugar and fat, while watching (on one of DD's TVs) one of the "Christian" Republican candidates step down in the presidential race.  His face was pasted over with a waxy smile as he shook hands with folks and body-guards walked behind him scanning the crowds for assassins.  He positively oozed dishonesty. I wish I could have freed him to express what he felt.  My guess is he might have liked to start punching people in the face whilst using curiously provocative language.

What is going on!?  What planet are we on anymore?  We seem to have liars leading us.  People who are more interested in polls, popularity and image than they are with truth and freedom.  Washington DC seems to be a farce, so I sip my coffee and get back to reading my bible.

But who am I to judge?  Philip, just look at what you're drinking.  You're a farce!  You're pounding your body with fat and chemicals (which has me feeling like crap right now btw. I always forget that I'll feel like crap later), having spent $2 on the drink, when not only are you trying to save money for your family but trying to lose weight. Where's the honesty Philip, where's the true self-assessment, where's the freedom to be about giving my $2 to good causes?

I don't know.  I know that honesty in middle-class America is hard to come by.  And being a Christian doesn't seem to make it any easier.  We're bombarded by all these various denominations, radio shows, best-selling Christian motivational books and for crying out loud, where's the honest self-assessment?  With all of our tools for faith we are sucking at being a light to the world aren't we?  That's my honest opinion.

Just driving from Chattanooga to Orlando I was bombarded with billboards.  Some qouting God as saying "Homosexuality is an abomination," others for cute little ADULT BOOKSTORES!  Honestly, America is a weird place.

I think that it is not only hard but near impossible to approach the authentic Christian life in middle class America.  We have too much!  We're too comfortable!  We're deluded!  Francis Schaeffer is going to rise from the dead and condemn us.

So on I rant.  I'm a piece in the machine.  Yet one more American blogger complaining.  One more blogger bemoaning our spiritual state and sipping on coffee.  One more hypocrite.

Honestly, I think we need Jesus these days more than ever.  Of course, we always need Jesus.  Why?  Because Jesus is real and honest.

This is my confidence, this hypocrite's cry, that Jesus is the truth and that Jesus is honest.  Also, honestly, even though I do hypocritical things, I am perfect, as my heavenly father is perfect.  That's the other side, the real side of the good news.  Man it's so good and so hopeful.    

So when I have to vote this time round, I'm thinking I might just write in a surprising candidate...

(Also, I don't know why I wrote this, because I'm a terrible social critic!  I never watch the news or read the Wall Street Journal, and my guess is that a trained monkey could criticize Americanized Christianity.  Sorry for ranting.  And if you're wondering, I don't agree with the picture, but I think it fits.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I saw an owl this morning as I was "mountain" biking through the Floridian jungle.  I hooted at it, and it looked at me like I was an idiot.  Owls often make me feel this way.

But other than the owl episode I had a wonderful time weaving my way through palm fronds, ducking under the Spanish moss and zipping by ferns.  I'm reminded of the spoonerism, "There's nothing better then rolling down a hill on a well boiled icicle."

Today as I exited the trail, I just had to thank Jesus for these moments.  Albeit they are moments full of blur and adrenaline, but they are moments in his naked creation as well.  I'm convinced that I'm made for this.  "Man vs. Wild" here I come!

No, actually my version of "Man vs. Wild" would consist of sleeping in hotels (oops, did he do that?), roasting marshmallows and skipping sunrises over sunsets.  Plus I'd have to eliminate all animal dangers, as well as heights.  Oh and poisonous plants as well.  Oh and definitely mosquitoes and ants, I hate ants.

In fact, my version would take place in my family room, surrounded by all the comforts of middle class life.  This sort of brings me to something I've been thinking about a lot:  The Christian life is a road marked with suffering right?

As we approach Good Friday, I think this is an appropriate question.  Is it possible, in middle-class suburbanite America, to live the adventure of Christianity?  I believe it is possible, but as with the illustration of the "rich man through the eye of a needle," it's going to be a challenge.

I typically like challenges.  But I've been finding more and more, as I get older, the tendency to opt out of challenges in favor of familiarity and comfort.  But my Christian problem isn't going anywhere and the child within me is screaming to live.

Now I don't want to get into "all or nothing thinking," Jesus is definitely alive and well in me, but I still have this specter that lurks and haunts my days saying, "Is this all?  Is this it?  Are you made for McDonalds, movies, bike rides and Dunkin Donuts coffee?  Were you made to suck your thumb with life?"

I don't know.  And I know I'm not going to figure it out anytime soon.  The thought that sanctification is a process certainly is encouraging, and I have great hope in whose hands I'm in.  And I'm not about to go and seek out hardship, I'll save that for weirdos like Bear Grizzle - what a name for a TV character!

But as the owl cocked his head in query to my hooting this morning.  Perhaps Jesus cocks his head at my fervor for comfort.

These ideas were spurred on by a book I just read "The Default Life," by Sam McLoughlin, a fellow Regent College alumni.  Read it, it could be a game changer.    


Monday, April 2, 2012

Guilty-Guilt, Guilt, Guilt

"Guilt makes the world go around." - me

What does it mean to be "motivated by grace"?  I've been thinking a lot about this as one of my friends was saying how he heard someone explain that it's to never, ever to use guilt as a motivator.  Say you'd like to get people to work in the nursery, don't mention how poor Sue has been slaving away for months with no help, don't mention how John has had to change 2 diapers at once (while holding one with his teeth, ugh!), don't mention that nursery is known by some as "pre-purgatory", don't mention that most of the congregation seems like they couldn't give a rats rear about their children and certainly don't mention how some people sneak off during nursery to go on a date (I've never done this).

But as the nursery scenario has been tumbling around in my brain, I've been thinking about how much of my life is motivated by guilt.  I practically get out of bed every morning because I feel guilty.  I eat health food because I feel guilt.  I feel guilty about my new pot belly.  I feel guilty about trying to exercise off my new pot belly.  I feel guilty about admiring my muscles after work-outs.  I feel guilty about putting too little time in at work.  I feel guilty about blogging before I've had my devotions.  I feel guilty about not being emotionally present with my kids (I think that means I feel like thingy-stuff).  I feel guilty about the dirty dishes.  I feel guilty about the lawn.  I feel guilty about ants in the house.  I feel guilty about the half-built tree house in our backyard that I need to tear down because I think using a level is for anal people (I feel guilty about hating anal people).  I feel guilty for riding my bike and enjoying it.  I feel guilty for not closing my eyes and swaying during worship.  I feel guilty for closing my eyes during worship to pray/doze.  I feel guilty for not taking notes during sermons.  I feel guilty for sneaking away to Dunkin Donuts and drinking coffee (Melissa thinks coffee is evil btw).  I feel guilty for checking my blog stats and looking for comments (although I've pretty much given up on that one now - poor me).  I feel guilty for having fun at work.  I guess I feel guilty alot...

Ok, so for now I've run out of "guilties".  I'm sure I could come up with more though.  Oh yeah, I feel guilty for not shaving.  Ok, I'm done.  But wow, that sure was therapeutic.  If you struggle with guilt I'd say you're in good company.

So how does the good news go click for those of us who have a severe case of chronic guilt?  How does it address our guilt and shame.  I believe it means we're free anytime we like to be done with guilt.  I don't like this, because I think that by feeling guilty I'll change stuff.  But as of right now, I've never gotten the lawn mowed by feeling guilty at it.  But I think that guilt does give us a temporary release over the things we feel we should be about, but frankly don't want to do.

I believe in guilt-free living.   Sounds good doesn't it.  I believe that God can enable us to feel conviction, repent and do his will.  This is a way better way of doing stuff, don't you think?  Plus, I don't think God wants his kids to feel miserable all the time.

Sadly, I suspect I'd rather feel miserable than submit to his guidance and grace.  Why?  Because, I think deep down in the deepy-depths of my soul, located near my spleen, I feel that God's not all that good at guiding me.  I feel that he's kind of asleep on the job.

But if I look at my life, scripture and my friends lives, this thought is simply not true.  The dude that put the universe together can sure take care of little old me.  So here's to not feeling guilty and starting to feel something else instead.  I'll take joy.  Pick your positive emotion and put down guilt.  As Ann Voskamp says, I'll be needing some of that!