Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Government, Gospel and Glenn Beck: What's a careful Christian to do?

Sometimes working in Christian radio it's hard to know what to say. When a local Christian ministry pays to bring in Glenn Beck, it becomes very hard to know what to say. Beck has united conservatives, yet divided Christians. What are we to do with the government, the gospel, and Glenn Beck...

A self professed Mormon, Beck, has a way of making people, especially conservative Christians ask questions. The world hasn't had much time to get to know the television and radio host who has rocketed from obscurity to fame in less time than it takes most people to finish college. Starting his career in radio at a young age, Beck's life story is a winsome one of fall and redemption. A struggle with alcoholism, the loss of a marriage in his addictions, finding faith in a Mormon church, finding sobriety and a rise from obscurity to reporting for CNN, and ultimately to super-stardom as the reigning king of tea party sympathizers. To say he was a man in the right place at the right time would be true, but not sufficient. Beck is a skilled communicator, an inspiring orator, and a passionate journalist, in the purest sense of the word.

In his own words his journey really started four years ago in 2006 when he first started investigating the roots of progressivism. Since that time progressivism has become enemy number one for Beck, who attacks it at every turn in his history lecture like television program, with his ever present and now iconic chalkboard, and in passionate and clever monologues on his nationally syndicated radio show. Since the beginning of that journey four years ago, Beck has found himself with a broad and passionate viewership, the number three most listened to radio show, and an increasingly leader like role in this new conservative movement.

Beck has changed with the times as well, drastically changing the format of his fox news show last year; in his own words, “closing the book” on exposing progressivism and moving to a very reserved almost conversational program block. Increasingly Becks shows have started to feel less like a “news” show, and more like a table talk, or even counseling sessions. In a move that was perhaps most shocking to the news world, Beck threw off the mantle of secularism that had become an unquestioned guest of journalism over the past three decades. Suddenly Americans were seeing a television personality talking personally, pervasively, and passionately about his own faith. Furthermore Beck treats faith with a loving fairness, not the cold calculated specimen like approach that has come to be expected in journalism. And finally to add insult to injury, Beck dared to invoke the name of Jesus Christ in his discussions about faith.

Beck is an understandable breath of fresh air for Christians, who had grown accustomed to treatments of Christ in media, varying from the cold and compartmentalized views of commentators like Bill O'Reily, who claims faith yet says it cannot have bearing on daily decisions, to aloof and passive aggressive like Bill Maher who's treatment of faith can best be seen in the words of Karl Marx who so famously dubbed it the “opiate of the masses”, to the outright venom from those like Rosie Odonell who compared voting Christians, to violent jihadi Muslims. In this atmosphere it should come as no surprise to news executives that real people of faith would be attracted to someone who really talks about faith.

In addition Beck talks about history, another distinctive that is all too distinct in media in our time. Though he has had a few noted foibles in his reporting of history, he has created an ongoing narrative where he has been careful to cite sources, involve scholars, and trace trends. In a world under the tyranny of novelty, Becks love affair with history has been, and indeed should be lauded and emulated.

Indeed much more good could be said about this radio host turned leader. There is much that makes Beck worth following. Even more credence is given to his leadership when we see what he is fighting against. In a time when the ruling elite is largely statist and all but exclusively secularist, one could find a plethora of good reasons to fall in line. Many Christians have done just that. To add fuel to their fire are Becks own statements. On his show when pressed on the subject of his Mormon faith he has emphasized his relationship with Jesus Christ. Saying at one point “Jesus saved me! That's all there is Jesus saved me!” (exclamations added). Many Christians have pointed to this as vindication that Beck believes the truth, and should bear the mantle of a movement. They have argued that Beck is some sort of hybrid, to pardon the flipancy a “Mormon light”. Does it matter? Could we join with Beck if he were a hindu or an animalist? Before we address these questions let us be careful not to dismiss the caution of our brothers and sisters in Christ and try to understand why they might be hesitant to embrace Glenn Beck.

Without question the most pressing matter on the minds of most Christians who would shy away from Beck is Mormonism. Mormonism is no laughing matter. It is has been the fastest growing bastion of falsehood in the last American century. Most Americans are largely ignorant of it's written doctrines and distinctives which has given way to a marketing slogan from the Later Day Saints that says in paraphrase, “we are just distinct Christians”. Can we believe this? Can there be a salvation in Mormonism, perhaps a Mormonism light? Lets consider some of the basic tenants. Mormons believe that God is not all powerful, not triune, nor is he eternal. He grew into Godhood through having spirit children. Both Jesus and Satan are spirit children of God, Jesus being given a body through God physically coming to earth from another planet to impregnate Mary through a physical sexual relationship. Christ death on the cross was not a true death, nor was it for the remission of sins. On first hearing most Christians are taken aback by these doctrines. And well we should be. It becomes apparent very quickly, if one holds to any of these basic LDS doctrines the Gospel begins to crumble.

One might very well say that Beck is not a Mormon theologian, therefore aught we not judge him on his own words rather than those of the Mormon Church? Yes and no. Before we take a look at the yes let's consider the no. Beck has openly and unabashedly affiliated himself with the Mormon church on multiple occasions. His affiliation is not accidental, or even subtle. In addition Beck prides himself on being a reading man. He often calls viewer to find the truth, and to know what they believe. Do we allow ourselves to think that Beck has used a different standard with his own beliefs? If he has it is to his shame! If he hasn't we cannot sever his ties to the Mormon Church! On the one hand how can we extol a man who has not followed his own words to know deeply his own faith. So much of Beck's message is one of deep devotion to faith, can we take his words if he has not made the effort to know his own faith? If this is not the case and Beck has deeply studied his faith, than how could he be both devoted to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and publicly associate with the group that preaches that Jesus came to earth as the product of an incestuous relationship of a demigod with a Jewish girl? We should not be quick to dismiss these questions, nor should we shy away from asking them. The Bible is clear we are accountable for our associations.

What of Beck's own words? We'll take a look at some of these in just a moment, however first let's answer the question. What of it? If the enemy of my enemy is my friend should we have any care what his faith is? Again both yes and no.

In his wonderful and still applicable book, “the City of God” the great theologian Augustine points out two cities to which we has citizenship; the earthly city and the heavenly city. Each citizenship comes with responsibilities inherent to it. Augustine skillfully lays out the perils of mixing or misunderstanding these two cities and rights of citizenship. In this earthly city we can stand along side many of different faiths to defend justice and righteousness. Right scales are an honor to God, regardless of the religion of the recipient. Standing together against things like abortion, injustice, and tyranny is beyond important. However we have a second, and indeed greater citizenship that is our first priority, and it is with this citizenship that my concern for Glenn Beck deepens.

At this time we'll take a deeper look at the words of Glenn Beck. Some are quick, because of statements from Beck on Christ like the one mentioned above, to pull his influence quickly into the realm of the second city. They say he has spoken truth. Has he? Truth can be tricky, in that a little truth with no context, can quickly become no truth at all. Beck has said Jesus saved me. When he says this what does he mean he has been saved from? Does he mean the same type and essence of salvation that you or I might? These might seem like needlessly picky questions, however if eternity is on the line, need we be any less than sure? Others have done a wonderful job of taking a comprehensive look at Beck's statements on faith (1), but to clarify Becks statements on Christ let's consider his words from the recent Constitution Challenge Rally held in Rapid City (10/26/10). After a one hour speech that I found largely inspiring and informative, Beck saved statements on faith for the last. He spoke of invoking the name of God, referring to the story of Moses in Exodus chapter 3.

1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.3So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses! And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 “Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." 13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am .This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "

You would be hard pressed to find another passage in the old testament so dedicated to God's identity. How did Beck interpret God's identity in our lives. If you can forgive a paraphrase as no transcript has been released to my knowledge, Beck said this is God's offer of power to us. It is our chance to invoke God's name to fill in our identity “I am a teacher, I am a father, I am Good!”. A God who by his power empowers us to change our identity for the better. Certainly that is a type of good news. But is it The Good News?

The Gospel as it is delivered to us in the scriptures has a much different take on our core problem. We are not good people with an identity crisis. We are sinful, enemies of God (Rom 3:10-16). We need to be saved, not from mediocrity, poor fatherhood, or even alcoholism, but first and foremost we need to be saved from the Righteous justice of God. A justice that must be exercised against all men, as much to vindicate the sins done against us as the sins we've done to others, and foremost to vindicate God. This righteous justice is called hell. It is the place we deserve to go. All other problems are just symptoms of the cancer that eats at our souls. We are sinners and we need a savior. Before we can ever talk about better lives, we need to be right with God, or life isn't worth living. The good news is that Jesus paid for these sins. Paul sums it up in the following verses in Romans 3.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

This rightness with God, and the freedom in life that comes with it comes through repentance and complete submission to Jesus Christ as savior and lord. That is the Gospel we preach. Is that the gospel that Glenn Beck preaches?

I would submit, at best, it is very hard to tell. At the very least we need to know that “I AM” the holy YHWH did not reveal himself to Moses so that you might be a better I am, but rather to call out a people, to bring to earth a savior, that we might all worship the great “I AM”

So what do we do with Glenn Beck? We pray that he will find true gospel and have the boldness to proclaim it. We lovingly press these questions to bring clarity to light as it pertains to the gospel, knowing that eternity is in the balance. We use his words as opportunities to bring the true gospel to light. We stand beside him as often as conscience allows in matters of social change.

But we may never, again I say never, blur the gospel to avoid a disagreement. May a movement, an ideal, even the country itself be damned before we damn the world by forsaking the Gospel.


(1) www.albertmohler.com, http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4080

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who is oppressing whom?

I don't often do formal apologetic writing. I leave that task to others better informed and equipped for the task. However, every once and a while I see an argument that must be addressed as one person or another attacks faith with often presumptuous, vitriolic, and often uninformed arguments. Often because we don't have the research to prove such a statement is wrong, we end up bending to ridiculous and unfounded statements. One of these often leveled against Christians is that religion has been used to control and kill. It is itself at fault for things like the inquisition and the crusades.We often find ourselves backpedaling and apologizing in grand strokes for historical movements we hardly understand just to retain some semblance of perceived "witness" within a conversation. Certainly we need to admit our faults and sins to the world, but does it help to apologize inordinately for situations that are highly involved, and guilt perhaps incorrectly assigned. I say resoundingly no! The true church must be honestly defended in truth, or our witness is useless. If we do not believe the true church a better state of affairs than the world, then we have no reason to witness at all. Now the highly politically fueled background of the crusades, and shared guilt with the advancing Muslim world aside, I found this quote by former presidential advisor Richard John Neuhaus incredibly helpful in brining some sanity to otherwise diaphanous discussions about historical guilt.

Those who belive the record of the secular enlightenment is spotless compared to that of the church are essentialy in denial. Those who tell the story this way overlook the fact that in three hundred years the inquisition had fewer victims than were killed in any given afternoon durring the years of Stalin's purges and Hitler's concentration camps

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does Your Church Do This?

Coming Soon I'll be launching a new feature on KLMP the Light radio. It's called the Book-Nook and its a chance for our listeners to hear from authors as we discuss important new books. Our first book is "What is a healthy Church" by Mark Dever. Mark is an author and pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church on, you guessed it, Capital Hill in Washington DC. He's also the founder and leader of Nine Marks Ministries, who's purpose is to help churches become more healthy. Is your church a healthy church? I found this passage particularly interesting...

"If a healthy church is a congregation that increasingly displays the character of God as his character has been revealed in his Word, the most obvious place to begin building a healthy church is to call Christians to listen to God's word... Fundamentally this means that both pastors and congregations must be committed to expositional preaching...Sometimes people confuse expostional preaching with reading a verse then preaching on a topic loosely related to that verse. Yet when a preacher exhorts a congregation on a topic of his choosing, using biblical texts only to back up his point, he will never preach more than what he already knows... Expositional preaching reqires more than that. It requires careful attention to the context of the passage, because it aims to make the point of the biblical text the point of the sermon. When a preacher exhorts a congregation by preaching a passage of Scripture in context-where the point of the passage is the point of his sermon- both he and the congregation will end up hearing things from God that the preacher did not intend to say...When [this isn't done] it hampers growth, ensuring [the people] will never mature beyond the level of the pastor. The church will slowly be conformed to the image of the pastor, rather than the image of God."

Who are we conforming to? Who are we leading others to be conformed to?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Should I be reading this?

I often wonder if I should write a blog. The world is filled with the words of fools, and often I too am foolish. Yet I do stand wholly convinced the truth of God is knowable and should be more often discussed extolled and shared among us. I found this little poem from the end of John Bunyan's pilgrims progress to much describe my efforts in writing as well. May we all strive too be so humble as Bunyan was.

What of my dross thou findest there, 
be bold To throw away, 
but yet preserve the Gold; 
What if my Gold be wrapped up in Ore? 
None throws away the Apple for the Core. 
But if thou shalt cast away all as vain, 
I know not but 'twill make me Dream again.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The church is the bride of Christ...

not to put words in God's mouth but i think some people might get to heaven and have God say "welcome my child, enter into your inheritance, and while you're here let's talk about how you've been treating my wife"

Is scripture about thinking or feeling?

I've seen and heard a lot of talk lately about Christianity and the bible in particular surrounding this idea of thinking or feeling. I often get accused of cogitating my way out of a good day. In the same token you might describe someone else as loveydovey, when they seem thoughtless in their affections. I found this wonderful quote from the very passionate, very thoughtful C.J. Mahaney. I think he helpfully removes what is perhaps a false dichotomy. This is transcribed to I pray you'll forgive if I misplace a word or two, I trust it is true to its intent:

"What you hear with these men (bible teachers) is the public display of private devotion. Too many of us want the public without the private... there is a relationship between thinking and feeling. That relationship needs to be brought to all of our attention...If you don't think deeply you're not going to feel deeply... what I hope is transfered from listening to these men is an appetite to read, which is a labor. It will not be immediately rewarding. It will be eventually rewarding by the spirit of God"- C.J. Mahaney addressing the keynote panel at the resolved 2010 conference.

Now should you be tempted to think Pastor Mahaney is simply saying this as a "passionless egghead" as I am occasionally accused of being, I would beg you to listen to his recent address at the aforementioned conference on meeting the real Jesus. http://vimeo.com/13217746 I believe you'll find this man and the ministry he has been given are about as real and transparent as you can get.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Past Musings Vol 3: The Hatred Love Demands

The past days have brought increased feedback on the blog, which I love by the way. This is called the market on purpose and I desire your ideas, even correction. Several times since "Is God in a Blues Riff" one of my past writings has come up on conversation. It was origionaly posted on January 12, 2008, and I think it is perhaps still the one that most affected myself, so I humbly re-present it to you here for your thoughts.

The Hatred Love Demands

One of the joys of being a musician is the benefit of sharing in the joys of special and important days in the lives of friends and family. This Saturday I had the distinct honor of performing for the wedding of an old family friend. Weddings are always interesting for me to observe. As a person who looks forward to officiating them in my future, I often ponder what the makeup of a wedding ceremony should be. As I look into the crowd I often wonder if the people in attendance truly grasp the immensity of what they are about to see taking place. At some weddings I wonder if the people on the stage realize the immensity of what is taking place. As an attendee at a wedding you stand to witness one of the few actions of mankind, that was ordained by God, and the only one Christ uses to describe his church. The comparisons of the God-Church and Husband-Wife relationship in the bible are pervasive and poignant. God has given us a window into his mind in marriage, that is hardly rivaled in any other of our daily observations.

The parallels are as I've said pervasive and therefore far too massive to approach, however as I sat among the crowd today, one hit me especially. In what is traditionally called the declaration of intent, the minister offers a kind of pre-vow to the couple, after which the true “wedding ceremony” can begin. While the terminology is archaic the recitation is probably quite familiar to you. Here is an excerpt, “to have and to hold, forsaking all others till death do you part”. Now the last part, of this the last line of the declaration, is perhaps the best known in wedding liturgy. “Till death do us part” has served as the tagline for more than 11 films, as well as 3 television series, as well as being mentioned in countless songs and printed on millions of wedding trinkets. Indeed in this day and age wherein 1 million marriages fail every year, till death do us part is an important consideration. However it is the clause before this that struck me today. “forsaking all others”

Should it not strike us as odd that such a line should be included. A wedding day is hardly a day of forsaking. In fact we go to a great deal of expense and planing to gather our nearest friends and relatives. Perhaps for the more discerning the reason is obvious in retrospect, but for the average American Joe writing a description of marriage, forsaking probably wouldn't be the first thing to come to mind. We think of marriage, and correctly, as the joining of lives. In fact in the last ten years it has come into vogue to modify the unity candle tradition, to leave both individual lights aflame, to give representation to each members individuality. While I'm sure in the correct context this change could be made without ruining the truth behind the tradition, it shows evidence of a greater misunderstanding; especially if we are to use marriage as a picture of God.

The traditional wedding liturgy wasn't written arbitrarily. In fact it would surprise many people to know that it wasn't written by people who would have necessarily been the most directly involved in weddings. Most of our traditional wedding liturgy is taken from “The Book of Common Prayer”, it was written by church leaders, many of them theologians, to insure that priests, rectors, and pastors (all names for essentially the same thing in different denominations) used careful words to describe this union; the truth about which is so desperately important to God. Make no mistake, the words “forsaking all others” are not arbitrary, and serve to give us a look deep into the truth about marriage, and thus the heart of God.

To forsake is to give up both title to, and influence from the thing being forsaken. It is to say that any cords of duty, friendship, emotion, or commitment, are void in light of this new vow. The implications are huge. This vow places the marital relationship on a plain in which no other earthly relationship may encroach. Many marriages in our generation would be saved if more people took the time to defend the borders of that plain. That means that as a married person, steps have to be taken to make sure other relationships do no grow to close. In our free emotion society, logical barriers in relationship seem quite archaic, but than again, we are a generation that has more failing relationships than any other in the measured history of such things. The words of Solomon at the end of Proverbs 4 to “guard your heart” go mostly unheeded.

I've stated, I realize without much evidence in this note, that God has given marriage as a window into his economy of life. What then does this simple line teach us about Gods economy? Is there in Love intrinsically some sort of hate? Christ thought so,

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes even his own life- he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Tough words for the new follower. In a way, like this wedding vow, it is understood that love includes a forsaking of other affections. It is at this point, that if we are truly honest, we will cry out at God. Why should we have to forsake other things to follow him. Is he not the God who gives all good things. Why would he give and take away. Isn't that just like the mischievous child who tantalizes the cat with the toy he knows he will never truly give. The more “pious” among us will have the answer of Job, that “the lord gives and takes away” and basically he's big enough that we can't talk back. This is desperately true, but its not the whole story.

The essential belief here is the value of Gods love, over whatever is being forsaken. As that married couple says that all other friendships pale in comparison to their relationship of vow. I cannot convince you of God's worth, I can only say that if you seek him truly its awesome depth will become more than apparent. The problem, especially for those of us who already believe in God's amazing worth, is the forsaking of all else. Once in my life I thought I had done just that. You may be thinking the same right now as you read this. I know what I thought. I knew I could be poor for God, give of my earthly possessions. I knew I could be uprooted for God, with a willingness to go to the ends of the earth. I even gave God my hopes and dreams, most of them as you'll see, as he changed my course through time. I thought that nothing would usurp my love for God. That was till God decided to take someone I loved.

I had somehow built into my mind that God would somehow never ask for my relationships. You see somehow I thought those were spiritually off limits of his dividing knife of dedication. These relationships were gifts from him were they not? He would never take those? The truth of this marriage vow, is that love without forsaking others, is not really true passionate love. Certainly we can love multiple people at once. We can even show a type of general good will to the world at large. But there is a love, that God reserves for himself, to be reflected in the love of marriage that is unlike any other. And essential to its make up is a holy hatred.

What I had failed to realize, is that our relationships actually pose the largest risk to our spiritual life. What is love? That question is large and complicated. What do I love? Now that question is simple. When something wonderful or inversely horrible happens in your life who do you think first to call? This is probably the person you love most. In a larger spiritual sense, when life gives you trouble, where do you go for comfort? If you're still not sure of the love-idols in your life answer this. “everything would just be ok if________” If you have an answer, chances are you have an Idol.

To love God means that we turn to him as our first source of comfort. If we call anyone, or anything, before him we are not showing true love. Like a marriage vow for spritual life, we have made a commitment to forsake all other forms of comfort. God is the God of all comfort, but unless we realise that any other comfort we see comes from him, its like falling in love with a valentines card, and ignoring the valentine. Is it any surprise, that for our own good, God sometimes has to surgically remove these other forms of comfort in order for us to see his heart. It is when we doubt all else that we truly have the capacity for faith. It is in comfort that faith and love meet. The man who gives up all for the maker of all will find that he has lost nothing.

Forsaking all others, for death shall not part us.


Friday, January 22, 2010

It's All About the Marketing

I'm saddend that much of the bad theology that has grown in the church is not a product of solid open theological argument, but rather of winsome terminology, soft selling, and happy marketing.

I've decided perhaps its time to fight fire with fire. So how is this for an idea.

"Vicarious Penal Substitutionary Atonement- It's the Bee's Knees"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is God in a Blues Riff?

I spent tonight at a bar... I don't get drunk. Actually I've never tasted alcohol. Not that I'm too good for it, just never seemed that cool to me. And I don't like bars. I hate the smell of smoke, I hate the noise, admittedly I had until tonight, for the most part hated the people. I hated the attitude. I hated the impulse to get drunk. I hated the way people use alcohol as a way to cover their discomfort in their own skin. I hated the way they fish for love, when their inhibitions have been dropped. And I loath watching them leave to consummate their temporal and unholy unions. I hated them, and I avoided them so I wouldn't have to show any one that hated them.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't that I went around town standing on a soap box outside of bars, screaming hell and damnation. I went to a secular college and spent a lot of time around these very same people in classes. Most of them probably never knew of my disdain. Knowing what I know now, I hope they never saw it. I see the photos on facebook. I don't post on them declaring their errant ways. I have people I count as friends among these people, but I avoided that part of their lives at all cost, and when those times came up, I had to work hard not to show my disappointment. You might be thinking “Jamin you're not a half bad guy. Hate the sin Love the sinner, that's what God does right? You seem to be pretty ok” That at least is what I told myself, till tonight.

In truth I now believe that my heart was far from God in these matters. Instead I think my heart was very similar to a certain pharisee Christ spoke of in Luke 18.

10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I was like him because I spoke like him, nearly exactly like him. I said things to myself, even things out loud to certain people. Things like “you know I'm so blessed that I wasn't brought up like that. God has been so gracious that I don't struggle with that kind of debauchery”. These are nice words, spiritual words, in my case junk words.

We may be tempted to minimize the offense, cite my penitence in other areas of life perhaps, but Christ words are hauntingly harsh. To invert – That man went home unjustified. To think when I use those words, bear that attitude, God won't forgive my sin. That thought should be spiritually terrifying.

Back to the bar. I braved the bar for a blues concert. I love blues by the way. Funk, Jazz, Big band. Hated the book “blue like Jazz” but that was just because of the “Bunny” illustrations and it's cult status. Where was I? Blues.

I love the blues. It has a certain personality element. It's a music that is almost always enjoyed in more intimate settings than stadiums, it comes with an understanding that you clap when you want, cheer when you like it, groove when you feel it, and move with it. Almost anyone can learn to play it to some degree. It's simple, elemental, pardon the pun of a word. Groovy.
So I braved the crowds and smoke to watch Hamilton Loomis. The man is an amazing guitarist in his own right. If you're a blues fan he's well worth a look. So I went out to enjoy the concert, and got mostly what I expected, good music, bad people.

As I sat and listened I started letting myself go, enjoying the music. I sang, I moved, I smiled, I laughed, and then I looked. As I glanced around I observed something I had not expected in the slightest. I was surrounded by people who were much more similar than I expected. These people I had conditioned myself to despise were for that moment, my compatriots. We were sharing an experience, sharing our joys, sharing our laughter. As I gazed around the room, that before had been an annoyingly smoky haze, I started to see eyes, faces, persons with souls. The obnoxious man with too many cigarettes, became a person who's stress I pitied. The woman who's clothing had made me speak questionably of her moral, became a creation of God, a master piece of my father, searching desperately for his loving arms. The bartender, who before had been the parishioner of this lowest of congregations, became a tender if errant friend to the regulars. These were people, not ideas, and in that moment they deified my simplistic classifications.

Perhaps this is part of Gods common grace. “Common grace” is the name theologians have given to the truth of God's benevolence toward sinners. This is not “saving grace”, meaning there is still a matter of Justice to be resolved by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but never the less God's posture is one of good will, even towards those from whom his justice with demand account. This is most easily seen in Matthew 5.

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

God sees fit to give common grace to even those who live as his enemies. What is common grace? Common grace is a good cup of coffee, common grace is rain on our crops, common grace is a faithful pet, common grace is a stupid pun, common grace is a fragrant flower, common grace is an inside joke, common grace is a great blues concert. Common grace is God so loving the world, even those who reject his son.

As I looked around the room I began to see God's grace in every face, on every life. These people were enjoying life, laughing, living. Each one had been given one more day. One more day, one more breath, that is common grace.

Am I saying that God is right with each one I saw, or that this was evidence of their passage to heaven? No, many if not most are living in open rebellion toward him. I solidly believe that Christ and his particular saving grace, offered freely to all, is the only way to reconciliation with God. However as I looked around I realized something profound about God.

I believe the world is in open rebellion towards God. In our sins we aren't victims, we are disgusting guerilla warriors against a loving God. We propagate our own sins, we are thieves, adulterers, and rebellious miscreants, who are a shame to the very imago dei we bear, making us the worst of the fallen. Our desecration of God's image on our own beings, in a way makes us more disgusting than the devil himself, who has no ability to commit such an offense. Yet...

Yet in light of this, God still chooses to give us Joy, life, love, coffee, rain storms, sunsets, friendships, and blues concerts. God so loved. His common grace would itself be unavoidably large were it not overshadowed by the immensity of his offer of saving grace.
It is not sufficient for me to say that God loves those people. He is actively loving them, even as they ignore and reject them. He is infusing their lives with joy, even as they twist and maim it. Such was I before he found me.

If God loves them so actively, persistently, and tangibly, how can I do any other. How can I degrade them to illustration, and archetype. They are people, souls brought into existence by the hand of God and sustained by his very hand. May God deal with us ever so severely if we see them as any less.

C. S. Lewis said “you will never meet a mere mortal” everyone is an eternal soul, the question is, in which kingdom? This evidences of common grace, should drive us to be the light of the world, bringing them the message of saving grace. God has confirmed their eligibility by his common favor.

What does this mean for our lives ahead. Well each of us should press forward in prayer, council, and wisdom. Going into the world is tough, and dangerous, but it must be done. I am not recommending or approving of any course of action, but I think perhaps, I may just spend some more time this year in a bar.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

He's In My Head

I got a letter from my student loan lender the other day. In it was information that made me realise I am much more poor than I thought I was. While I was stewing on this the most random thought popped into my head. I was compelled to put a figure on how much time I spend laughing in a day. After considering my family, my roomates, my friends, and my co-workers, I am forced to admit, on any given day I spend about 60% of my waking hours laughing.

I quit valuing my money in that moment.

I started thinking about and thanking God for the "random", fun, and happy thoughts the Holy Spirit plants in his children, and had to well.... Laugh.