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I don't care enough to love you

You can only truly love someone when you have extricated all necessity from the relationship. You can't really love someone that you need because it is not free. Freedom is often linked to love in that you must have a free choice in order for love to be free. However, I would say that even if we were theoretically free, we still need God so much our love could not be free. Instead it is in bondage to necessity.

Christ, however, freed us to love him the way he loves us. When he freely died for me, he freed me to freely give love to him. Before I ever wanted anything from God, he died to give me everything I needed. Now, I need nothing. I have been given everything. I am a son of the Most High God. What could I need? I have a right to everything that is Christ's as a heir to God. Now I can love God because he is just beyond wonderful. I can enjoy him, his character, his word, his creation as it was intended, as a gift.

A friend recently emailed me the words from a Casting Crowns song that said, "How refreshing to know you don't need me; How amazing to find that you want me!" They understand the true nature of love. Real love is the desire and enjoyment of another that you do not need.

How do we "need" people? We need people when we seek their approval over God's. We need people when we use them to improve our status. We need people when we use them to manipulate them to do our bidding and make our lives easier.

I would also argue that true love is not "a decision" anymore than it is an emotion. True love always involves the emotions, but much of the time, especially at the beginning, it takes a conscious effort. It is contrary to scripture to say that God loves us with no emotion. Song of Solomon and the Minor prophets show that God's love is full of emotion. However, It took the most extreme act of service on earth for God to demonstrate his love. Sometimes it is difficult for us to love people because they run over our idols: it is difficult because we need them to not offend us. True love is a genuine affection for someone because of the beauty that God has put in them as his image. We let their offenses between them and God and love what is there to love. There is something in everyone.

How can we do this? If we direct our worship toward God, and not idols, we really will need nothing. Why would we do this? We see our father doing it, and we admire him. We want to be like him because he is so cool.

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Marriage-Dodgers

Courtney and I, along with Courtney's mom, have noticed that women are growing less and less fond of marriage. You might call it the "Sex-in-the-City" effect. Women are waiting later and later to get married. And, more and more women seem to be having children outside of marriage or even outside of a stable relationship with a man.

So, as usual, I am trying to come up with a theory that might help explain this. I believe we can find important clues in Genesis. First of all, I believe that men and women were made for marriage. Genesis 2 is clear that men need women. Women were made to satisfy that need that Adam experienced before Eve was created. It is also clear, then, that women need men. In fact, their satisfaction of their man's need of a "helper suitable" is part of their identity. God reflected this in the way he created man and woman. Man and woman historically have had a relationship of interdependence. Each was suited to a set of particular roles within the family. Society as well reinforced those roles. These functioned as "plausibility structures" for the idea that women really needed to be married to be complete.

However, these plausibility structures have been eroding rapidly since the 1960's. More and more women are highly educated, and the workplace has become very open to women. In addition, society has whole-heartedly accepted the idea of singleness and even single-parenthood. Much of the media encourages people to remain single. Since the idea that being a wife is integral to being a women is less and less plausible, women are reconsidering whether or not the relationship is one that benefits them. Outside of this premise, the answer they are coming to seems to be no at least while they are young.

Part of the curse in Genesis 3 is that women will desire the place and position of their husband, but that he will wrongly use his more dominate position in their relationship. No doubt being married in a fallen world has its problems. Courtney has a counseling degree, and we are both mature Christians and we still struggle to the point of exhaustion at times. It is understandable that someone would want to avoid the situation of having to share everything they have with another selfish human being. Having children is a whole other realm of insanity. The curse on women makes these realities especially poignant for women.

The sad part of this situation is that women will be living more and more unfulfilled lives. That is, they will be living outside the God's design for their lives. For most, this also means living outside the protection of God's laws. And perhaps even worse, more and more men are frustrated that they cannot find a worthy woman for marriage. I think this trend will ultimately feed into the transition of our society to the neo-Victorian society I alluded to in an earlier post. I think it will push men to break out of their doltish habits and return to a manliness that is more in line with godliness. They will reject feminism as a whole, but be reformed by its valid criticisms. And, with better men, women will again begin to see their need for men as intrinsic to their created existence.

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The Postal Service

I have been listening to a new band as of late called The Postal Service. It is sort of a neo-techno 80's sounding band that sounds quite original amid the hundreds of same-sounding bands out there. Don't get me wrong, I like some of them, but it is nice to hear something different. In fact, it is a creative tributary of Death Cab for Cutie, another interesting band.

I would say that both the sound and the lyrics are whimsical and charming. For the most part, they are light, unusual for me, but well formed with near-perfect rhythm and rhyme. They are like a clean Eminem with a better vocabulary.

One song, called Recycled Air, which denigrates the fine dried, heated, and cooled air which we breath most of our lives. Now, I understand their sentiments. I too love to step outside an take fresh air into my lungs. In fact, I am trying to develop a habit of getting out of my seat at work and walk around the building every two hour or so. So far, I have found it difficult to interrupt the flow of my work.

However, I have lived in apartment with no central heat or air. Let me tell you it is not particularly pleasant. It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter. We did have radiators, but we found the temperature difficult to regulate. Poor as we were, we were also forced to dry our clothes on racks in the house. Clothes take a while, like two days, drying in a damp, unairconditioned house. I particularly remember the bed always being slightly damp.

Sometimes I am tempted to overly-romanticize an adventurous life without the creature comforts to which I am accustomed. I won't take those statements back, but it is good to remember why our forefathers might have taken the steps they did to get us to this materialistic, consumeristic culture we have ended up in. They did what they did because they were living a hard life and they wanted things to relieve their suffering. They were very successful in inventing, manufacturing, and marketing these inventions until they are basically assumptions to the generations since.

I suppose I should be thankful and use this reflection to push me to find ways to relieve the suffering of others.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

It is not uncommon at work to get an email that a customer is coming through to view our operations. We are advised to clean up our work areas and look tidy. Many times the email includes an admonition to "put your best foot forward."

As you might imagine, I bristle a little at this thought. I think, "How hypocritical!" I should just act the way I normally act. Corporate America is so fake. We have to put on a show for the customers, but we can slack off the rest of the time. I smugly reflect how if I ran the company things would be different.

However, when I look for evidence to this effect, I must admit I come up wanting. While I do try to be as honest as possible, I do, at times fail. Many times I hold my tongue when I should speak because I am afraid of what others might think. I am probably the worst at managing my image. I am, and have always been, very conscious about how my actions appear to others. I kick myself when I say something stupid. I am especially irritated when I do so in front of a person I respect or, gasp, with whom I wish to make a good impression.

Nor is this isolated to the public realm; I have recently realized over the past few months how many of the conflicts with my wife are due to my own hypocrisy. Sometimes, I get angry and defensive because I am afraid Courtney will see how I am deficient in some way. Other times, I get angry or defensive because I think she is putting pressure on me to do something I don't really want to do. I don't like the implication that I am a bad husband, so I fight vigorously to not be seen as such. Why not just be honest? More often than not, she didn't even mean to imply that I needed to do something.

So, Is my CEO wrong for asking us to dress up pretty for the customer? I still don't like it, but it appears that I have my own problems to worry about, so I'll just clean up my desk and move on.

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Nowhere Else To Go

I am a critical person. I am an open-minded person. For better worse, there are very few thoughts that I have not entertained. This includes serious doubt about my Christian faith. My most recent bout with doubt was probably about a year ago.

In my regular Bible-reading, I read Hosea 11:1. The phrase, "out of Egypt I called my son" rang a bell, so I read more closely. The "son" described was very clearly Israel. It seemed as thought Matthew was employing some fancy hermeneutics that I considered at the time almost lying. I could I trust a this saying when it was so obviously manipulated.

This is when the real doubt set in. What if I can't trust this verse? Can I trust the rest of Matthew? Can I trust any odd-seeming application of OT scripture? If I can't trust these verses, what I can I trust. With this, I was catapulted to a height of doubt I rarely face. The free-fall lasted about two days. I could barely think about anything else. I got advice from friends, but nothing seemed to satisfy my questions. I clung to this one verse, John 6:68, "To whom shall we go, Lord, you have the words of life." Peter expressed my desperation. Everything in me was causing me to doubt, but when I looked beyond Christ's words, there was only an abyss. I had looked other places. There was nowhere to go.

The reality was that his words had changed me and brought new life to my broken spirit. The last three years are a testament to God's grace in my life. I could not ignore this. One night I broke out a commentary and some theology books and decided to see if anyone else had ever faced this.

Not surprisingly, they had. My premillenial dispensational history had influenced my understanding of the limits of he interpretation of prophecy. I obviously had not fully integrated the reformed perspective. I learned that references to the Messiah and Israel were often conflated. In a real sense, the Messiah was Israel. One writer puts it that OT prophecy is not literal but Christological.

My mind was satisfied with what my heart knew. The words of life come from him who lived, died, and lived again for a people that he would draw to himself. Thanks be to God, I am one of those people. Repent and believe, and you will be too.

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Suffering On Level 5

Last week in my sunday school class we talked about how we as American evangelicals rarely think about or long for the second coming of Christ. I think this is because we have largely fulfilled our needs through technological advance. The only suffering we consistently face is the suffering of being denied needs of Maslow's upper levels. And, psychologists and pharmocologists are trying to solve these problems through various methods.

Granted people still die, and many suffer with various diseases, but the constant threat of death and hunger are largely absent from our minds. We have recently been watching episodes of Little House on the Prairie. Death and hunger were almost constantly knocking. Suffering was real and imminent. It was more a question of when than if.

I can't help but think of the millions that live in unimaginable conditions of filth and hunger. I think of the thousands that die of malaria because they don't have $5 mosquito nets to sleep under. These people are longing for the salvation of the body. They understand an aspect of the salvation that Christ came to give that we do not. In fact, we may fail to understand the gospel when we interpret it in terms of mere self-actualization.

Our success in eradicating many forms of suffering increases our confidence that it is only a matter of time before we solve all problems of suffering. It is this confidence that makes it hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. In addition, scripture virtually guarantees suffering. Christ himself predicts that his disciples will suffer because if the world hated him, it will also hate us. It almost makes me wonder what we are doing wrong that we are not more hated. I wonder if the yeast of the worldliness has so worked its way through the dough of the church that we are no longer offensive. This could only mean that our churches fail to preach the radical gospel of free merit.

Christ preached that merit can be obtained with no work at all. He offered his own body to pay my debt. He offered a perfect life to merit my reward. Very few things are more offensive than elevating the outcasts of a society. It flies in the face of the values of a society and often provokes anger from the highest and lowest of social orders. These kinds of rules are not made to be broken. Christ broke these rules when he touched the leper, forgave the adulteress, talked with the woman at the well, welcomed the children, and ate with the tax collectors and prostitutes.

Who are those people in our society? Do we have what it takes to live as Christ? If we have truly believed, we do. His Holy Spirit lives in us, and pries the cold dead fingers of our flesh from the idols of this world. Our new life in Christ reaches out to those for whom Christ came; that is, those who have need.

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Back to the Future

Courtney and I have a running conversation regarding the growing split between the educated, disciplined, and wealthy and those that are none of these. The gist is that we are on the cusp of a cultural shift. I see the cultural events of the 60's as the apex of cultural ideas that were born around the time of the French Revolution. Like an ocean, these waves have come in and gone out with growing intensity finally washing ashore radical feminism, the sexual revolution, the complete breakdown of the family, extreme individualism, radical capitalism, and complete secularization.

Since the 60's our cultural elites have been seeking to work into the dough of our society the final products of modernism. I believe there are many that are finding these absurd. They are looking back to models of traditional societies, traditional religion, and traditional values. The rise of influence of evangelicals in the political scene is only the beginning. Beneath the surface is brewing a much more radical change.

I believe that even in many secular homes, children are being raised deliberately differently than their parents were raised. They are being raised to value family, creation, and a higher sense of duty to their community. Now cultural change is a gradual process, and usually periods can only be identified in retrospect. However, I think the turn of the millenium will be seen as the move from post-modernism to the retro-victorian era.

I think the children born in the first 10 years of this millineum are going to make a radical difference in this world. I know that I am praying that three of them will. Now it will not be all of the children. Unfortunately, most of the children of this period will receive poor educations. The will develop bad habits of body, spirit, and mind. Many will be verbally abused by their single mothers or sexually by their single mother's boyfriends. It seems obvious to me that our political structures cannot survive this fissure. While I have libertarian leanings, I question how long they will be relevant. The privileged children will have better educations than their poorer counterparts. They will have psycho-social advantages that border on deterministic success guarantees. They will come to dominate every aspect of society. It is really only natural.

They will recognize that with power comes responsibility, and they will seek to be the responsible stabilizing force in society. Those below will welcome it. Gradually, society will morph into a caste system not unlike that before the modern era in western society. The aristocrats will enjoy many privileges, but they will also consider themselves responsible for those below them. The best of them will treat them like their own children. The worst will maintain their serfs with the minimum that is their duty.

Strangely enough, all of this will seem natural. Both the aristocrats and the peasants will begin to see that this is the natural order of things. Rights doled out by class will not be considered unfair. It will be considered just. No doubt there will be instances of jealousy and envy, but as a whole all will accept their place.

Now I will reserve judgement as to whether I think this is a good arrangement. For the most part, I just see this as an inevitable step in western society. To some extent, it is a return to our roots. There is much room for good, and there is much room for evil. I doubt that as a whole this society would be much worse or much better. I believe the most important factor is how Providence chooses to move his children into places of power. Were the Gospel to permeate my future scenario, things could be much better. I will be praying to this end, and that Gage Augustin, Soren Basil, and Pax Athanasius will be tools in the Master's hand as he carves history into the stone tablets of time.

As with most of my theories, I would have a hard time offering anything but antectdotal observations from music, movies, articles and books. But, this is how all great ideas are born. The hard research is what comes next. Maybe someday I will realize my dreams of entering the academy. Until then, I have the benefit of making lots of unsupported assertions.

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Me, opinionated?

Some time ago I was having dinner with a friend from work. He asked me if I had an opinion about a situation. I said that I did. I also said that if he asked, I would probably always have an opinion.

I live me life pretty much constantly judging and evaluating. While I may sinfully do this at times, much of the time, I am just trying to learn what is good and right about a given subject. I almost always have an answer that I am working form. I try not to be too attached to my view especially if it is one that is relatively new or out-of-step with my community.

In addition, I am always looking for my opinion to be reformed by scripture, the facts, experience, history, teachers, etc. I wouldn't want to be a fool who arbitrarily picks a position and arrogantly refuses to change. However, I don't want to be the aimless fool living the unexamined life.

I picture my kids someday quoting one of their dad's favorite proverbs as they are arguing for their point. "If I didn't think I was right, I would change my mind."

All this to say, please, comment. I love a good discussion.

What's SOL mean?

I was sitting at a table with one of our VPs and a couple of consultants when one consultant said, regarding a customer's situation, "Then they're SOL."

Now, I was raised in a some what sheltered environment, but at 30 I've heard just about everything. Considering some of the movies I watch, I think I have seen and heard just about everything, but apparently "SOL" has somehow slipped through the cracks.

So, I asked, "What's SOL mean?" There was an awkward silence, and everyone looked at each other as if to say, "No, you first." I don't know if the hesitation was because of the corporate setting or because no one wanted to offend my virgin ears. As the highest ranking officer, the VP explained that it meant they our out of luck and said that this was the difference between state schools and Baylor.

I couldn't believe it. Once again, I accidently reinforced my image as the nice guy who probably doesn't even know how to sin. It is almost as if people like to think of me that way. Is it possible for people to see me as a real human being who like them is desperate for the grace that only comes through Christ.

There are definitely times when I wish I had the radical-change testimony, but I am thankful that God has saved me from some of the consequences of sin that I did not commit merely because of my sheltered upbringing and often self-righteous obedience. For this I am all the more in need of God's grace.

Dethroning human arrogance with an evolutionist

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.

- Stephen Jay Gould

My first reaction to this quote was to notice the irony. An evolutionist concerned about the dethronement of human arrogance was a combination I had not considered. In thinking about Gould, I decided to read a little. In my internet research, I happened on this article regarding NOMA. NOMA stands for non-overlapping magisteria. That is non-overlapping teachers. It is Gould's reflection on a statement by John Paul II's address Truth Cannot Contradict Truth in which he supports the view of neo-darwinian evolution and the idea that science and religion are two distinct domains and that the church only has authority to teach in religion.

I must say that I was surprised by Gould's grace. So-called Christians could learn by reading a Jewish agnostic on how to deal with opposing or nearly-opposing views. While I suspect Gould might have had a less tender tone with creationists in my own country, I suspect an honest inquirer would have received a generous welcome.

In many ways, Gould's tone reminds me of on of my favorite professors, Dr. Charles MacKenzie. Dr. MacKenzie is of Gould's generation, and it makes me wonder if there were be any room for real dialog if I ever reach the academy.

If I had the opportunity to talk with Gould about this quote, I think my first point would be that while one might think that the history of science would have dethroned man, it has actually had two effects in the opposite direction. In one sense, human life is regarded very lowly. Abortion, abuse, rampant materialism in the face of world poverty, high rates of suicide and depression all show the low estate of man's appraisal of himself. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine a society more dedicated to the human individual than western 21st century culture. Francis Sheaffer gives great insight into how this came about in his Escape from Reason. Ironically, NOMA is in some sense a product of the fundamental problem in modern philosophy.

I would say that in the above quote, Gould is delving into the magesterium that he most often back away from. He was commenting on religion. For it is only in light of God, that man can be both properly humiliated and glorified as a creature created in the image of God. And, it is only in the light of God that creation can truly be seen for what it is.

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