Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Prelude


It is no secret that public education as a whole is on the precipice of disaster. Many school districts in urban centers are failure factories. The schools in mostly middle-class suburbs, while churning out (somewhat) college-ready students, are perilously close to drinking the NEA's kool-aid. After that, there is no turning back. While I am happy that the system will likely topple, it leaves us with a potentially gargantuan mess to clean up and the need for different blueprints with which to start over.

What we need is a fundamental change, from the very foundation. And like all truly good foundations, this one must begin with repentance and faith. We must repent (as a community and as individuals) of believing the lies we have been taught since childhood: that education will save you. While we may say, as Christians, that Jesus saves us spiritually, there's no denying that many of us have believed that a good education will save us physically. And so we pursue education as a means of saving ourselves. This is a lie, and we must recognize it as such.

But recognizing the lie is only the first step in repentance and faith. We must have something upon which we can build when the public education system lies in ruins. Even if public education stays around for the entirety of our lives, a new vision for Christ-centered education wouldn't hurt. In fact, I believe it would prove immensely powerful in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More clerihew

Clerihew, as it turns out, are really fun to write. Especially when they are centered around biblical characters. So, here are some more:

The great King David
the battle against Goliath he braved.
But you have to ask what was he pondering,
when he went philandering?

The prophet Eli
was the last man who didn't die;
Instead of being buried on a pyre
He rose to heaven on a chariot of fire.

John the Baptist
Wasn't what you would call a fashionist.
But in all his eccentricities he prepared the way
for Judgment Day.

The Apostle Paul
Once was a man named Saul
Then it became his position
To spread the mission.





Thursday, February 21, 2013

Truth and power

At a recent Veritas Forum lecture at Rice University, Oxford Professor Dr. John Lennox made a fascinating statement: Truth cannot be imposed by power. He also said that if you do not believe in Absolute Truth, your truth will be determined by the group with the most power. It would be useful to think about both of these comments in turn.

Dr. Lennox presents an interesting contrast, and it rings true, both in scripture and in society at large. Truth cannot be imposed by power alone—it must stand on its own. This means that we should be suspicious of claims that are only backed by power. Conversely, sometimes the portrayal of truth may look powerless. But it only seems that way. Real truth is absolutely powerful; that's why is doesn't need a system of power to sustain it.

Take Jesus, for example—the Truth. When he made his triumphal procession through Bethlehem, he came riding on a donkey, the antithesis of power. He came in humility because he came as the Truth. The Bible consistently portrays the truth as a gift of grace. God's revelation of himself in nature is a gift. The incarnate Christ was a gift to the world. His death on the cross was a gift to sinners. And his resurrection and defeat of death were gifts to those who would turn to him. Gifts, by definition, cannot be imposed upon someone; they must be accepted as gifts. All good things (truth especially) are given to us as gifts from the Father.

So it should be no surprise that we are weary when people try to impose a certain "truth" through the use of power. We perceive it as a threat, not a gift. This practice is readily seen in the Academy and society at large. There is tremendous pressure in the Academy, for example, that Naturalism be the default position for all intelligent people. Academics and scholars who eschew the tenets of Naturalism are cast out and considered pariahs to the intellectual elite. They are refused tenure, ignored by academic journals, and generally dismissed as unintelligent. It's a power game. The powerful in academia are trying to impose "truth" by their power in the academic sphere.

In society, those who do not hold to any form of absolute truth have their truth chosen for them. And it is chosen by the group with the most power to yield. In previous generations, this truth may have lined up (somewhat) with biblical truth, but it was still ushered in by force. In this generation, it's no secret that those with the most power are trying to usher in a completely different idea of truth. Look around and you will see it: in the media, in the schools, and in the halls of government.  The power is shifting, and with it comes a new idea of truth. This should be the first warning sign that the truth being ushered in is not the truth. 

We would do well to question any group or system that uses its power to impose an ideal or moral standard. Remember that the real truth stands on its own and comes in the form of a gift. But this doesn't mean we should refrain from offering this gift to people. Instead, we should make ourselves powerless so that real truth may be shown for what it truly is: so powerful that it does not need the power of others. It stands alone, set apart, ready to be received with thanksgiving.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Grace and condemnation

There is a liberal impulse to make God senile and indulgent, and to pat us on the back of our dirty little hands reassuringly, and to say that there is no condemnation because it wasn’t really that bad, or it was natural, or you were born that way, or God didn’t notice, or God doesn’t actually care about it. This flatters us in the most egregious way possible, and distorts everything. (Doug Wilson)
We shouldn't belittle the condemnation we should have had. It just ends up belittling the grace we did receive. Understanding the condemnation that we have avoided is crucial in understanding God's grace towards us. But we can't appreciate God's grace if we shrug off the subject of condemnation as though God were only kidding about sin. Minimizing the nastiness of sin (and thus its condemnation) belittles God's holiness and promotes self-justification. It is beneficial to avoid both.

The man who uses Romans 8:1 to whitewash his own sin ends up diluting the sacrifice of Christ in the process. Of what good is being set free from condemnation if it is not-so-condemning in the first place? Christ had to suffer the full wrath of God precisely because sin is so nasty. Thus we sing together, "it was my sin that held him there." If all sin isn't worthy of death, then why did Christ have to die for it?

Our attempts to coddle the sinfulness in ourselves are really veiled attempts at self-justification. If we can believe that our sin isn't really that bad, then we can also convince ourselves that our little good deeds are enough to warrant God's favor. This couldn't be further from the truth. As Doug Wilson said, it really does flatter us in the most egregious way. And it distorts the very nature of things.

The way it distorts everything is that we start creating our own "sliding scale" of sorts, with the "really bad" sins at the top, and the menial, "this-wont-send-you-to-hell sins" at the bottom. What happens then is that we form our own hierarchies and systems based on this sliding scale. The most white-washed people get their place at the top, and the real big sinners are left squabbling over the crumbs at the bottom of God's totem pole of grace.

Don't you see the distortion here? There are hierarchies in God's design, but not like this one. God's hierarchy is completely inverted. It's a system where the first are last, and the last are first. Where nobody deserves anything but those who humble themselves receive everything. And none of it is earned by man; all of it is given by the grace of God. So, when we start coddling our sin and sugar-coating the nature of true condemnation, we are laying the foundation for our pagan totem pole, where men rise to the top based on how much Febreeze they can spray on their filthy rags.

The grace of God, though, pierces through it all. It shows us what true condemnation looks like by giving us a clear picture of the heinousness of sin and its consequences, albeit applied to a substitute. But at the same time, God's grace gives meaning to the phrase "there is no condemnation." You cannot appreciate good for all of its goodness without seeing it juxtaposed to true evil. Thankfully, we have seen both on the cross of Christ. We saw unfettered evil and its consequences. And in so doing, we got a clear picture of God's great grace through the midst of all that sin. Covering up our own sin only distorts the true nature of grace.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Building the Ivory Babel

The number of historical spin-offs from original biblical dramas is really quite something when you think about it. Take almost any biblical story and you could find a modern equivalent, replete with similar characters, story lines, and outcomes. It's almost as if humans were predisposed to act a certain way. I think it's also one of the reasons why we have such melodramatic stories in the Bible: we ought to be able to recognize the similar plots and story lines in our own times. And when we recognize these themes, we won't be left saying "how could this happen?" with the progressive demigods when things go down the toilet. We're already circling that drain anyhow...

One of the current narratives we should pay attention to is how this nation endeavors to educate our children. I believe it follows closely the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

After the great flood, God told Noah and his descendants to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 9:7). But the residents of the land of Shinar had other plans. They said "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its tops in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth" (Gen. 11:4). They wanted to be on par with God, to make a name for themselves, and to defy God's creation mandate for the people. In short, they wanted one government, one religion, and one name—all centered on the glory of man. If Genesis 3 is any indicator, this plan is a recipe for disaster. And so it was. God saw the attempted usurpation of divine authority and therefore confused their unity and scattered them among the earth.

It wasn't the building of a city and a tower per se that incurred God's judgment; it was the heart behind the whole thing. The idea of the built environment had been turned on its head. Man decided that he would be his own god—that building a tower to the heavens would establish and save the society. That through unity of government, (false) religion, and name, the people would be an indestructible power.

The same mindset pervades the culture of education today. Education is seen as the way to eradicate poverty, crime, and bigotry. (See, for example, the NEA Mission and Vision Statement). The federal government spends billions of dollars every year attempting to inculcate our children with a worldview that exalts the intelligence of man as our great savior and our great good. Parents are no longer seen as the primary (or even legitimate) means to give our children a worldview and education. (Why?) Universal preschool is pushed as national policy so that kids can be educated and inculcated away from their parents as early as possible. I could go on and on. All this is in the name of progress. But progress to where? To the top of the Tower of Babel? No, thanks.

I don't think it's too tenuous to connect the dots here. They're all there; we just have to draw in the lines to see the full picture. And when we do, the idolatry is glaring.

Much like Shinarites and the Tower of Babel, we have perverted the purposes of education. Education is not an evil to be avoided. Quite the contrary; a man (or woman) made in God's image is designed precisely to be intelligent. In this way we imitate the intelligence of our Creator. God graciously gives us a knowledge of this world so that we can have a greater appreciation of him and an acute realization of our need for him. Thus, education is a tool, to be used for something. That something is the worship of God, not the worship of man. A well-educated mind is like the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor knows how each instrument works, how the notes flow together, and how the individual instruments cooperate to make beautiful music. He has the score in front of him, and he knows when to cue the piccolo solo and when the timpani should be at full thum-dum-thum-dum. But the conductor didn't write the score—he merely possesses the faculty to arrange for others to say "what beautiful music!"

And so it is with proper education. Education gives us the musical score; it allows us to interact with the environment of knowledge in such a way that people say "what a beautiful God we have." That's the purpose of education. Don't be blinded by what is going on around us. It should be no secret to a discerning person that the aim of our current system of education is not to glorify God. Quite the opposite; we are training our people to believe that education is the ticket to salvation. We are building our own ivory Babel in hopes that we can make an everlasting name for ourselves, a factoid-saturated people that will last for generations behind the veneers of unity and progress.

So, in the end, it should come as no surprise that this enterprise is (and will be) a spectacular failure. We have established an educational regime that is guided by a principle of one government, one religion, and one name—that we are gods. "Yes we can!" is our battle cry and our creed. But it will not last. It cannot last.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Faithful Clerihew


A clerihew is a form of poetry that uses rhyming couplets, generally centered on a famous person. It employs a whimsical style and uses AABB as the rhyming meter. So I thought it would be a fun exercise to write some clerihew (clerihews?) on biblical characters. There are many to choose from, but I started towards the beginning. Besides, that's where the most interesting stories are. These are terrible, but here goes:

Adam, the very first man,
Lived a few centuries longer than any of us can.
But were he alive today his sons may cause him distress.
How would he chastise us in 140 characters or less?

Adam's wife Eve
Did something you won't believe
the fruit she did partake
when talking to the snake.

Adam's son Abel,
Was not merely a man of fable.
He brought forth his sacrifice of sheep,
Which it pleased the Lord to keep.

God's faithful sailor Noah
Put all the animals on the ark, including the boa
But to accommodate the giraffe's neck
Did he cut a hole in the upper deck?

Abraham, from Ur of the Chaldeans
Some say he's the father of even Lincoln.
Turns out he is the father of a chosen race
But at 100 years old, he began at a leisurely pace.

The purpose of a clerihew isn't to bring forth some deep thought or emotion; rather, they should be funny, whimsical, and even fantastical at times. Just like life.







Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The next measure

I can say with confidence that my favorite day of each month is the first Monday of that month. It is when Sojourn gathers to pray for ourselves, each other, and our city. But this isn't your ordinary, stodgy, frozen chosen prayer meet'n. No, these gatherings can get lively. And intense. This should come as no surprise given the heart of the people who show up to these things.

One of the greatest aspects of Sojourn's prayer gatherings is that people do not show up out of some sense of duty, as if they were getting credit for time served. No, they show up with hearts laid bare, asking of the Lord, "how would you use us?" They have a genuine desire to see the Holy Spirit move among them and in our city. Broken hearts, pleading with God. This is the first step to fomenting revival in this town. O Lord, let it be.

These gatherings are also immensely beneficial to our church as a body. This is where we can come and know the reality of our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. More than any other time, this is where we openly plead with the Holy Spirit to show us how he dwells in us as a body. "Show us the power of the indwelling of your Spirit. Show us." And we are thus shown, in mighty ways. The physical and spiritual bonds between us are renewed and strengthened through this corporate prayer. We move towards Christ as we become one body, one mind, under one Lord. This has staggering implications for how we live together as a community, in the bond of love. We are bound together by God himself in common purpose. We are bound, not with chains, but with relationships. And these relationships bear witness to Christ himself in the world. Let it be true of us, O Lord.

After chewing on it for a bit, some flavors stand out among the rest: family, strength, unity, love, thankfulness, power, depth, mission, ultimate reality. These are things we are working towards as a body when we come to the Father in corporate prayer. "Lord, enlarge your family, and commune with us, your children!" Just imagine the ecstasy when, as Christ reigns forever in the New Creation, we will experience these things fully, together, with Him. Let that reality sink in for a bit. And so we can pray in confidence, knowing that these things will take place, even as they have not happened yet. Yet. Soon. 

So when you come to next month's prayer gathering, remember that we are pleading with God to usher in the ultimate reality of his presence. He does it, one step at a time, and for that we should be ever thankful. But let's not hesitate to ask for the full measure, in confidence. Why not? We have it as a secure hope, don't we?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Oaths and Anchors

I love the Old Testament. Besides laying out some otherwise stupefying stories, it shows us convincingly that (1) Jesus wasn't an afterthought, and (2) God keeps his promises. Because the former is deserving of its own fair exposition, I will leave that for another time and concentrate on the latter. But don't think they aren't related.

God's promises give us a glimpse into his character as a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. But the keeping part of the covenant sometimes takes a while to see—over several chapters or books. As the story unfolds, however, we see that God keeps all of his promises. The middle part of the story reminds us that the fruition of the promise doesn't happen right now; it happens later. Sometimes much later. That sort of thing is not easy to hear in our instant-gratification culture, but that's our issue, not God's.

So back to the Old Testament promises. From the beginning, we see God make certain promises to Abraham. He will be a blessing to all nations. His descendants will outnumber the stars. Having no way to see this promise come to pass in his lifetime, Abraham had to rely on faith for the promise. And it was by Abraham's faith that he obtained the promise. Interesting. We will come back to that. In the meantime, the writer of Hebrews offered similar encouragement to new believers banking on promises that God hadn't delivered on just yet:
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest after the order of Melchizidek (Heb. 6:13-20).
What he is saying is that God made an oath to Abraham, which Abraham received by faith. And then the promise came to pass. Similarly, God made an oath to us—a blood oath through the death of Christ on the cross. And just as Abraham received the benefits of his promise by faith, so we also will receive the benefits of this new promise by faith in Christ. Faith seals the benefits of our hope.

Back to faith. I find it fascinating that Abraham, "having patiently waited, obtained the promise." He waited on God in faith, and the promises of God were his—even though the fullness of the promise had not come to pass. God deals with us in the same way. The promises of God in Christ are obtained at the moment of faith. We do not have to wait until judgment day and hope that God will come through on his promise. How do we know this? Read the stories. See what God is like. And know that faith seals your future hope.

Ok, so we know that faith seals our hope at some indefinite point in the future. But what good does that do us here? Look closely. It serves as an anchor of the soul. This anchor sinks below the waves and waters and lands with a doctrinal thud into the seabed of truth. You aren't going to be tossed around by the wind and waves; your hope is staying put. So in the here-and-now, your mind and soul can be put at ease by the promises of God. Throw off your anxiety and your cowardice. Stay firmly anchored in the truth when everything else is drifting with the tide of the day. The stories of faith give us encouragement to hold fast to the hope of the promise. So do not be discouraged: know that the promises are yours, if you have faith.

The Bible is full of stories of God's promises and their fulfillment. The "saints of old" have much to teach us about God's covenant-keeping character. Keith Getty and Stuart Townend put it well:
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear the call, and hunger for the day,
When with Christ we stand in glory.
Let God's promises be an encouragement to you. Let the Bible tell you stories of the triumph of God's grace on the cross. And let that spur you on to continue with the mission, knowing that the outcome is secure.