2007-03-29

A Short Rant Before Bed

I've had a long, good day. It began with a 9am appointment, and ended at 11pm after a prayer vigil for Darfur at SMU. Along the way I went to class twice, read a book, did lots of communication on the phone and via email, and met with a very cool Christian artist. A 14 hour day. Talked to several folks about Jesus. Read some good stuff about Jesus, and the history of His people. Oh yeah, I snuck in dinner with my beautiful bride and wonderful daughter too.

I'm not griping about how long my day was (or how they all seem to be that long). I was made for this. I love it.

I just want some help.

Tonight at the prayer rally for Darfur, I was surprised at the number of people who WEREN'T there. Every organization from the Campus Ministries Council was invited. That's about 25 groups currently. About 10 groups came.

And none of our Evangelical groups were there… unless we count our Christian Sorority as an Evangelical group.

Of the 10 groups, I think 6 were Christian. Of those groups, only two of us made obvious reference to Christ (from whom the term "Christian" is based). Only one of us tried to root what we said about social justice in the Person of Jesus Christ, in whom God humbled Himself to become human and suffer with the oppressed.

Everyone else spoke in terms of a generic therapeutic deism that could have referred to anyone's God, or no-one's, depending on your frame of reference.

Now, don't get me wrong. I spoke about Jesus openly and honestly, without apology, but I did not make the event into a "come to Jesus" type of talk. That wasn't the purpose of being there, and in all honesty, I think it would have dishonored Jesus to use that venue to push that agenda. The purpose of the meeting was to mobilize people to follow Jesus- and ALL religions that promote justice and peace- to bring about justice and peace in Darfur.

According to Jesus, we can follow Jesus in bringing about social justice even if we do not know we are following Him (see Matthew 25.31-46). So, the point of the meeting was- from my perspective- to help people act like Jesus even if they don't [yet] know Jesus, and by so doing, hopefully they will come to realize it was Jesus they have been following all along (look at that Matthew passage and you will get what I am saying here).

So, tonight was all about joining with everyone who cares to promote justice and peace in Darfur, while at the same time making it clear that Jesus is the basis of why I am doing it, even if others do not accept that as their motivation.

And, in all honesty, I can understand why some Christian groups might be afraid to be as open about naming the Name of Jesus in such an environment. They might be [rightly] worried that since Jesus' Name has been such a battering ram to beat up other people in the Bible Belt, that it is best not to talk the Jesus-talk, and instead just walk the Jesus-walk. So, I will admit that when some groups use a "generic therapeutic deism", it may enable other people to hear the Gospel clearer than if they had named the Name of Jesus, for the sheer fact that there are so many people who have been hurt in His Name that they have really negative connotations of Jesus.

But, I think it is important to be open, honest, explicit, and concrete about why I do what I do, and Who I do it for.

It's all about Jesus.

And how will the negative stereotype of "Jesus-people" be broken? It will only be when "Jesus-people" live such attractive lives of Love, that people cannot help but being attracted to the Jesus that is at the center of this love.

And how better to live love in an open and public way than to be involved in the life of the community, and be involved in the fight for social justice, peace, and freedom, in the Name of Jesus?

So, why were there no Evangelical groups there? Why was the Name of Jesus only named by two campus groups (who normally aren't considered to be "Evangelical"), while all of the groups that are known for naming His Name were not there?

That frustrates me. Such a good "witnessing" opportunity wasted. The Name of Jesus could have been glorified, and instead the stereotype was reinforced that Evangelicals don't care about anything except getting conversions.

I wish- I pray- that all of those who are not afraid to name the Name of Jesus will commit themselves to championing the social justice that Jesus preached. And I wish- I pray- that all of those who are commtted to championing the social justice that Jesus preached would become bold to name the Name of Jesus as the reason for what they do.

If we all did this, do you know what would happen?

The Kingdom of God, that's what…

2007-03-22

One Crappy Sermon

Philippians 3:4-14 If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

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Do you remember the first time you used profanity? Do you recall the first time a really juicy, filthy word flowed forth from your mouth? Do you remember the feeling that went with it? Was it shame, or power, or the feeling of getting away with something? Were you angry? Were you hurt? Were you frustrated? Were you trying to be cute or mischevious?

I remember my first time. I was five years old, and on the playground at preschool one of my "bad" friends- I would imagine he has probably been on cops by now with no shirt and no shoes screaming "it weren't me"- that friend taught me a new word. It was the word to describe your posterior that sounds like "bass". I repeated it quietly to myself all through naptime, savoring its forbidden sweetness as it came out of my mouth.

When I went home that night- I was living with my grandmother at that time- I was in the kitchen watching her wash the dishes, soap suds billowing up around her to the left and the right. The bright idea came to me to say ever so cutely with a smile "Nonnie, don't get any bubbles in your ______". She dropped everything she was doing, whipped around, and scowled "What did you say?"

My smile dropped. I repeated the phrase in a low voice, almost mumbling. She looked at me with that profoundly disappointed look- she was quite good at that look- and she simply said the most ominous words any young child can hear "Go out back and cut yourself a switch". It was that day that I found out- through my throbbing posterior- that language can be quite powerful indeed.

Now fast forward over a decade to my conversion to Christ. I am one of those folks who was quite resistant to Christ, who met Jesus quite unexpectedly, and who was changed quite radically by my encounter with the Risen One. And one of the most noticeable changes that Jesus made in my life was that my filthy sailor's mouth- no offense to sailors- that mouth was almost effortlessly cleaned up. After all, there is no reason for anything profane or useless in the Kingdom of God… Right???

And then, a few years later, after I had gotten a little "book learnin'", I was translating the Greek text of this passage from Philippians written by this guy named Paul. I got smack dab in the middle of verse 8 and I realized that Paul drops the "S-bomb". Our nice and neat and proper Bible translators have told us that he says "I consider all things RUBBISH" compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus. The Greek word for "rubbish" here is "skubala", which is remarkably similar to our own "s-word".

It refers to a heaping pile of that stuff which comes out of the end of a cow, which gets stuck in your sandals, which you track through the villa, and which you have to clean up on your hands and knees. If they had bumper strips in Greece during Paul's day you might have even seen one on that back of a cart that said "skubala happens".

But wait. That's profane. That's disgusting. That's a cuss word. That would have made Paul's proud Jewish grandmother tell him "Go out back and find yourself a switch, young man". So, why did he use it? What possible use could such- such profanity- be in proclaiming the hope that we have in Jesus?

I wonder… [PAUSE]

I don't know about you, but when I think of a big, heaping, smelly pile of skubala a few images come to mind. I mean, what is skubala after all? It's something that used to be good, but it got used up. All of the nutrients have been sucked out of it. Everything wholesome has been digested, and all you have is this worthless, used up, old, tired stuff.

I think that is what Paul is getting at when he lists all of his accomplishments, and then calls them all skubala. Now, looking at his list from our 21st century perspective, it is hard to get at what he is saying. When he says "If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more". The word "flesh" here refers to his natural abilities, and the accomplishments that come from those abilities.

When he says he was "circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews" he is saying that he comes from the right bloodline. He is from that group of folks who consider themselves God's chosen people- and they have the Biblical text to prove it! And not only is he a member of the ultimate "in crowd", but he is also a "Pharisee".

Pharisees are like the chosen of the chosen. The super righteous. For these people, following the 10 commandments wasn't enough. The scrupulously kept the other 603 commandments of the Hebrew Bible. But this wasn't enough either. They built up a barrier wall of thousands of other commandments that regulated every area of daily life, to keep them from ever getting close to violating the 603 so they would never ever violate the 10.

And not only was Paul from the right bloodline and from the super-righteous portion of that bloodline, but he was perfect at it. He said, with a straight face, "as to righteousness under the law, I was blameless". We all have met Paul. The golden boy. The perfect child. The one who never does anything wrong. His skubala doesn't stink.

But Paul came to a realization. That realization was that there was something more to life than being right, and being a good boy, and being patted on the head. He realized that there was Someone who made all of his golden accomplishments look like fool's gold in the light of His perfect, resurrected glory. In Christ Paul found all of the fullness of God, all the fullness of Love, all the fullness of meaning… and he found that not even death could defeat this Love.

Have you ever just gotten tired of yourself? [PAUSE] Paul did. All of Paul's human glory- and he had a lot of it by human standards- was used up, worthless, tired, and old, compared to knowing Jesus Christ. It was so profane compared with the Love of God revealed in Jesus, that Paul could only use profanity to describe it.

But there is something else that skubala brings to mind, or rather, to nose. It isn't just worthless and used up. It is disgusting, horrendous, and smelly. And you know what? There are things that we go through that are horrendous. Unfair, heartbreaking things. We endure tragedy, suffering, and evil, for no discernable reason… and it is just… CRAP.


Paul talks about this other aspect of skubala in another letter we have in the BIble. In it he tells us how he was unjustly whipped, beaten, battered with stones, shipwrecked, lost at sea, sleep-deprived, starving, thirsty, hated, persecuted, and worried to the point of death. He was in skubala up to his neck: disgusting, horrendous, smelly skubala.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in skubala up to your neck? [PAUSE] Has every tragedy rained down upon you, all while God seemed like He was locked away up in heaven, uncaring, unmoving, and unresponsive?

I've been there. Paul has been there. I'll bet you have been there. And you know who else has been there? Jesus.

Though he lived perfect love, we responded with utter hate. Though he came to give us life and set us free, we bound him on a cross, and left Him to die. And it was on that cross that He cried what we all cry when we are in skubala up to our neck: "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me???" [PAUSE]

And that leads me to the last thing that skubala reminds me of: Fertilizer. God has so ordered the world that even waste- as disgusting and nasty as is may be- even skubala has the ability to prepare the ground for new life to grow up out if it. Skubala makes the fields rich for harvest, a harvest that is many, many times greater than it would have been if it had not been used.

God doesn't waste any of our waste, ever. [PAUSE] He uses everything that happens to us- the good, the bad, and the ugly- he uses it all and works it all for our good. Paul says that in another letter he wrote to the Romans. Like a master artist who takes broken pieces of pottery and puts them together to form a beautiful mosaic, so also God is forming a beautiful mosaic of our lives... If we will just give him our broken pieces and let him work!

He uses every bit of skubala to change us, transform us, and mold us into who He has made us to be. Paul's skubala- both his tokens of false pride and his personal tragedies- were used as fertilizer to make Paul one of the most read and revered people in all of history. Paul would not have been who he was, had God not allowed him to undergo the skubala he went through.

And all of the suffering that Jesus went through for us, because of us, in our place- every bit of that skubala- led Him to the resurrection, when He showed us once and for all that God's Love is truly stronger than death… without death, there is no resurrection. And it is this resurrection that Paul placed all of his hope in. It is this resurrection that made all of Paul's trophies seem worthless in comparison. And it was this resurrection that gave Paul the endurance to undergo all of his trials and tragedies for Christ's sake.

And that resurrection is not just for Jesus or just for Paul. It is for all of us who attach ourselves to the reality of Jesus by putting our whole trust in Him. And it is this resurrection that guarantees us that God will use all of the skubala in our lives to make us into someone who is radically transformed and totally filled with His Love, just like Jesus.

What is the skubala in your life that you keep hanging on to? [PAUSE] What is the source of pride, or pleasure, or comfort, that you cannot let go of… That thing that makes you say to Christ: "I will you everything, just NOT THAT"? What is the tragedy that you just can't let go of, which you blame yourself, and others, and God for?

Close your eyes. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you allowed God to take that mess and make a miracle out of it? [PAUSE] Can you imagine what it would be like if you just gave God those broken pieces, and let Him re-work it into His mosaic? [PAUSE] What is stopping you from letting God heal you? [PAUSE] Why don't you allow that to be put to death on Christ's cross as well, so you- ALL of you- can be raised to new life?

And now, may you come to believe that even though skubala happens, God's grace far surpasses it. May you allow Jesus to take all of your skubala and use it as fertilizer for resurrection. And may you allow His Spirit to fill you with His Love that is stronger than death. Amen+

2007-03-08

Can someone give me ONE LOGICAL REASON to believe in God?

Someone asked the question "Can someone give me ONE LOGICAL REASON to believe in God?" on a facebook bulletin board. I got tired of scrolling through the very poorly thought out replies to such a question, so on spot 1333 I replied with this:

Well, the very idea that someone would ask a question like that- that anyone would- points to something (or someone) that is beyond human experience. The hunger for something indicates that there is something to fulfill that hunger. For instance, we hunger for food but we don't hunger to breath underwater. This is because we have an apparatus to eat food (a stomach), but not an apparatus to breath in water (gills).

If we didn't have a need for something like God- a trancendent something that gives life purpose and meaning- then we wouldn't even ask the question "Is there a God?" In fact, the very question would be non-sense. It would be like asking "Is there a xcflssmx?" Yet, as abstract as the idea of "God" is, even small children and atheists automatically understand what is being claimed in the question. God is that something that transcends all others and gives meaning to all others.

Even "logical reason" points to this. It is assumed that there are these rules called "logic" and "reason" which give order and structure to things, but which are not themselves part of the things they give order to. The basis of logic, non-contradiction, is usually summed up by the statement "X is X, and X cannot be non-X at the same time and in the same way".

We know there is this rational order to things. This rational order gives structure to math and logical discourse and physics and cooking and everything. Yet, it is not "in" any of these things. It is a non-empirical reality that controls empirical reality. Where does this come from?

Where do we get the idea that totally transcendent entities somehow control the physical cosmos? It points to this Something, or Someone, we call God.

Now the question is: Are these really pointers to this something, or is it all a smoke-and-mirrors show in which all percieved order, meaning, and logic are an illusion? If its all an illusion, then not even the question makes sense. Because it would be the equivalent of saying "Can someone give me ONE UBBDWS NBUINBU to believe in xcflssmx?"

I am completely willing for someone to say that all logic and rationality are meaningless, BUT if they do, they must live that way. They must live as if everything they say and feel (and everything everyone else says and feels) is meaningless. That's the only way to honestly hold such a belief.

But, I bet they can't do it. It's existentially impossible to live that way and remain sane.

The only other option is to say that logic and rationality are real, and they reflect the structure of reality. If we grant this, then we cannot leave it there. We must probe further. What do these transcendent structures of meaning point to? What type of God do they lead us to?

Now THAT is a better question...

2007-03-02

The End of Postmodernism?

I think I have stopped believing in the promise of postmodernism. It is a dead end, a self-defeating denial that only exists as a protest movement against the naïve humanism of post-enlightenment modernity.

Postmodernism, at its worst and most hypocritical, is:
- The univocal, universal, dogmatic proclamation (by primarily upper-middle class Western European males) of egalitarian pluralism for all cultures and all peoples at all times;
- A complete unified metanarrative about the complete impossibility of unified metanarratives;
- Methodological doubt about everything and everyone except one's method of doubt;
- The construction of a method to deconstruct all other methods;
- A wax nose bent to escape responsibility for the use of power;
- The claim that it is absolute Truth that all Truth is relative;
- Hypocrisy justified by denying justification.

Jesus once said that "A house divided against itself cannot stand", and postmodernism is inherently divided itself by all of the logical contradictions (and more) that I have listed above. In short, postmodernism deconstructs itself, leaving us nothing at all... absolute nihilism.

I also have this sneaking suspicion that this postmodern deconstruction is the direct, logical, genetic, unavoidable great-great-great grandchild of Protestantism, which in turn is a descendant of nominalism. But that is blog for another day.

This is not to say that there are not things to be learned from postmodernism. The drive for authentic community, the suspicion of claims to authority, and the openness to mystery and spirituality are just a few of the nice things that have grown out of the last 40 years of sustained critique of the modern project.

Now it is time to move on and integrate what we have learned. It is not enough to deconstruct what is wrong, one must attempt to construct what is right. Modernism and her assumptions have shattered and fractured in the beautiful mess that is postmodernism. It is time to pick up the pieces, and retrieve the materials that modernism cast aside, and construct a new paradigm- a new map for reality.

What will this map look like? I assume it will include what is best about modernity, as well as what is best about classical Greco-Roman thought, what is best about classical Christian thought, and it will include in ever increasing measure what is best about Asian and Islamic thought.

What will we call this next Age of human thought? I don't know. Perhaps "The Age of Integration".

But then again. I don't know. These are just my random thoughts over dinner tonight.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.