26 June 2010

Coming to the Light When You are Wrong

We have (I include myself) done and said and thought many things wrong in our lives. That is what it means to live another day: successes, maybe; mistakes, sins, and errors are guaranteed--we are still earthbound. And while some doubters might think from the previous post that they got a "Get-Out-of-Jail-Free" Pass from George MacDonald, that is not at all correct: they overlooked the critically important qualifier “honest” before the word "doubter."
MacDonald deals with our laziness and tendency towards self-deceit:

“No man is condemned for anything he has done: he is condemned for continuing to do wrong once he knows better-and has an avenue; out of his wrongdoing. But [if he chooses differently], he is condemned for not coming out of the darkness; for not coming to the light.”

  • George MacDonald

Meanwhile....Back to the Honest Doubters

I spent a couple days browsing the web looking for good Christian websites or blogs--I haven’t found too many. I know I am picky: my standards are strict for both the appearance and the content. As I read the blogs/websites, I tried put myself in the shoes of an agnostic, if there really is such as thing. I was looking for a broad view on the spiritual landscape. Eventually, I returned to hard copies for the best, most probing pieces. I agree with C S Lewis that George MacDonald is one of the best original Christian thinkers of the past 200 years. MacDonald pointedly deals with covert doubts that people harbor, and even leans towards celebrating honest doubters but without sacrificing the Truth of Christ. True to Christ whom he loves, MacDonald has a penchant for condemning false religion (going through the motions). No wonder he was an ostracized minister in his lifetime.
(I have updated his language) –
Honesty Before God, Honest Ignorance vs Going Along to Get Along
“Don’t let your cowardice agree that a word is ‘light’ because another calls it ‘light,’ [if] it looks to you [like] darkness. Either say the thing is not what is seems, or that God never said or did it.
But it is wrong to misinterpret what God does and then say the thing, as [someone has represented it to you], must be right because God did it. No, that is of the devil. But, on the other hand, do not try to believe anything that affects you as darkness.
Still, even if you [make] a mistake and refuse to believe something is true, you will have done less wrong to Christ by your refusal than if you had initially accepted [believed] something to be of Him while it really seemed to be darkness to you. 
 [It is better in practice to ] Let your words be few, so as to prevent yourself from saying anything which later you’ll regret in your heart.”
 - George MacDonald

25 June 2010

Cornering the Market?

“Poets have… often communicated in their own mode of expression truths identical with the theologians’ truths; but just because of the difference in the modes of expression, we often fail to see the identity of the statements.”
  • Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker

23 June 2010

What Makes Community?

God is love.
How often have you heard that?
Prior to time, God was--and God was always the same: love. God loved before angels or man was created for love the "essence of God." Love is a relational term-requires both a subject and an object.
Remember the old question: if you were stranded on a desert island, what one thing would you want there? I think I would want at least one other person there (which would disqualify me from "stranded"). In exploring cross-cultural circumstances, invariably the biggest difficulties come out of the loneliness of person without someone to love and understand them, then when that person has connected, the cultural problems fade away.
The Trinitarian nature of God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son, Jesus Christ, provides the answer to how it is that God could be the Creator, yet also the Lover.
The Father loves the Son; the Son reciprocates that love and this love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. In short, through all eternity, God is the social Trinity, the community of love.

22 June 2010

Existing is not Enough

"Redemption is participatory, not imitative. It is grounded on grace appropriated through faith, not merely on obedience. Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ not merely imitation of Christ."
(Richard F Lovelace in Dynamics of Spiritual Life)

If Lovelace is correct God provided no "shortcuts" in our Christian growth, has He? My Christian well-being and growth is both emotional and volitional (deliberative self-will). I think he's saying it's not enough to believe that you can grow by being good, by showing up, or by thinking "good thoughts."  All that is lip-service, eye-service, and everything else, coming just short of being fully engaged. In addition, whilst a worshipper is enraptured in worshipping Christ, he's got to understand that the awe of "flying" comes with some perils--not every element in the atmosphere around him is sympathetic to his engagement to Christ. He needs to heed the winds and the gathering clouds, to pay attention. 
Within the world--and the church--since the church is peopled with mortals fresh off the street-- there is not a lot of understanding about Christ and what He means.
The apostle Paul was a kind of a trainer, a co-pilot, to the young man Timothy. He gave him lots of encouragement and plenty of warnings: specifically, encouragement about growth and warnings about obstacles to growth:
A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God...
Run for your life from all this.
Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy .
Run hard and fast in the faith.
Seize the eternal life,
the life you were called to,
the life you so fervently embraced..

(from 1 Timothy 6, The Message)

The entire chapter is here:
"These are the things I want you to teach and preach. If you have leaders there who teach otherwise, who refuse the solid words of our Master Jesus and this godly instruction, tag them for what they are: ignorant windbags who infect the air with germs of envy, controversy, bad-mouthing, suspicious rumors. Eventually there's an epidemic of backstabbing, and truth is but a distant memory. They think religion is a way to make a fast buck.
A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough.
But if it's only money these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.
But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this.
Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.
I'm charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn't give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don't slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He'll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He's the only one death can't touch, His light so bright no one can get close. He's never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can't take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes!
Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.
And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life.
Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts.
People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.
Overwhelming grace keep you!

1 Timothy 6, The Message

17 June 2010

The Importance of Being Well-loved

Father’s Day is around the corner. I don’t often write myself but make the exception this time because of the topic. As nature would have it, two things conspired to make me prize Mother’s Day above Father’s Day.
First, as often happens in the natural course of things, I bonded more closely to my mother than to my father. If you have children, you know how this works.
Secondly, I was born a little more than a decade after World War 2, in an era when fathers were authoritarians first. In my father’s case, he was also the eldest of many children. His eldest sister said he was born “old.” I think until his parents ironed out their marital life, he acted as the grown up. He knew how to set a good example and to work hard. In the family he was not remote, for he was in touch with what was going on in the house. However, as a child, he was scary to me. He’s now 81 (though some people tell me he’s still scary) and has mellowed greatly. 
Even though he may have seemed scary to me as a child, I knew I was secure and well-loved. Perfect parents do not exist but some parents are worse than others. I know many people who had bad fathers. A bad father belongs to one or more of these categories: the Unknown, the Unknowable, the Undeserving of respect or love, or the Uncaring (so remote he could have been living on another planet). In happy contrast to this are those people, normally younger than myself, who have bonded very closely to their fathers. And, sadly, many of them have lost the good father to death.
Which brings me to my question: would you rather be the person who was close to your father, but lost him before you were 35 or the one whose father belonged to the “unknown / unknowable / undeserving” category? I ask not to frustrate, but to consider what kind of Father you really perceive God to be.
One needn’t be particularly astute to know that people who have great difficulty with issues of faith are often people who have not been well-loved by their father—or mother. People who were well-loved understand how the freedom we have in Christ is not at odds with “following Christ,” but, in fact, they are parallel lines in the same direction.
More to the point: it is important that the professing Christian follow Christ because he’s compelled or drawn, and not out of duty, guilt or obligation (often called “eye-service”). Indeed, unless following Christ flows out of your free-will, I wonder if is really “following” Christ since the motive is twisted then its roots are not well-nourished.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!
Thanks for helping me believe in love!
A Charity Johnson

“He does not merely stand still, open His arms and say, 'Come hither'; no, he stands there and waits
as the father of the lost son waited, 
rather He does not stand and wait,
he goes forth to seek,
as the shepherd sought the lost sheep, as the woman sought the lost coin.
He goes--yet no,
he has gone,
but infinitely farther than any shepherd or any woman,
He went, in sooth, the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man,
and that way He went in search of sinners.”
  • Soren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity

09 June 2010

God Would Bring Us To His Knee

What is it about prayer? It is a Life Question that we can’t shake. From the time a child first learns about it (whether formally taught or not) until to his final years, prayer is a recycled Life Theme. Granted, some seek to be rid of it but typically it rears its head again, usually unbidden.
Why do we pray?- I am not speaking of the “transactional” prayers in which types of prayers and sacrifices function as part of the economy of “bargaining” for a divine favor or good fortune from some spirit-god, as shamans, witchdoctors and other “spirit-guides” do.
I am speaking of the appeal that we, finite, mortal and flawed people make to all-powerful and all-knowing, creator and sustainer God.
Back to the question: what is our unspoken or assumed expectation of prayer? I believe it is not only our petition we seek but also by means of the prayer interaction, we wish to experience His immanence in our (little) lives. Yes, we may pray because we seek help, but we also wish for contact with the transcendent—
I have found that the thing most people least understand about prayer is the part about RESULTS. Prayer is efficacious (having the desired result), but beware, in every other pursuit we have a way to measure the desired result. The problem with the efficaciousness of prayer is that God has the measuring stick. If we're using ours (my will, my desired outcome), then the results will appear to be flawed. That should be more than okay with us if God is who He is and we are who we are.
I have had many former church-goers and “universalists” tell me they do not pray because they do not need to. They have a reason: "God is both beneficent and all-knowing, I do not need to pray-without me breathing a prayer, God has read my thoughts and desires and answered them." Theologically this is belief has no legs. But, at its root it’s a problem of pride and laziness (I suspect some people cringe at the humility of prayer). A simple analogy will do to illustrate: both my teenager (and I) know that he needs and wants breakfast before school. Shouldn’t he come to the kitchen for it? If the parent has provided but the child is too lazy to make a move, he’s cutting himself off from the source and will be famihed by lunchtime.
George MacDonald addresses it further in: "Why Should It Be Necessary?”
“But if God is so good as you represent Him [to be], and if He knows all that we need, and far better than we do ourselves, why [is] it necessary to ask Him for anything?”
I answer,
“What if He knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer [is] the supplying of our great, our endless need—the need of Himself?
Hunger may drive the runaway child [back] home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner.
Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need:
prayer is the beginning of that communion, [there is] some need that is the motive of that prayer.
So begins a communion, a taking up with God, a coming-to-one with Him. [This] is the sole end of prayer, [even] of existence itself in its infinite phases.
We must ask that we may receive:[however] it is not God’s end in having us pray to receive with respect to our lower needs [since] He could give us everything without that. [God would] bring us to His knee… [He] withholds [so] that we may ask."

  • from George MacDonald, 365 Readings, edited by CS Lewis (language updated) Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York.

04 June 2010

A Thought, Re-thought

I used to think that man's basic problem with God was that mankind preferred to be loosed from all moorings of morality and responsibility that God might ask of him.
But I now suspect that that is more like a symptom of an underlying fear that mankind struggles with instead. 
An atheist or an agnostic (a procrastinating atheist) who has been exposed to the truth about God, has a problem with fear.
So, what does he/she fear? He fears most the freedom that being loved by God and by loving God will bring.
People do fear freedom.