Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You Cannot Be Serious

In wandering my blog to and fro (something I do rather pathetically often if we're going to be honest here), I stumbled across a link on the map section (the place where you can find out how many hits I got the previous day...not many in case you're wondering). The link had the intriguing title 'Single Catholic in Galway'. Hmm...are they reporting that there is only one Catholic in Galway? If so then that's just not true, because I went to an all-Catholic secondary school consisting of about 600 people, and I can safely say at least two of them are Catholics. At least two, and maybe even more. However, maybe this website is just implying that there is now an available Catholic in Galway who perhaps just got out of a very serious relationship and is looking to start up something again, so first come first served? Well, the heading is misleading, because underneath it reads "Date serious catholic singles in Galway with PARSHIP -serious dating". That's "serious" twice, so I think they really mean it.

More to the point, is it just me or is that the least appealing call to dating you've ever heard? I mean are there people out there who go for that kind of thing?

Guy - "Wanna go out with me?"

Girl - " thanks."

Guy - "Did I mention I'm serious?"

Girl - "Really? Well, maybe..."

Guy- "And Catholic?"

Girl - "OK I'm in."

It's certainly a bizarre selling point, but on second thought, maybe that's where I've been going wrong this whole time. As a fun-loving Protestant, chances are I've completely cut myself off from the market. If this webiste is anything to go by (and I for one see no reason for it not to be), then what women actually want is a man who takes life seriously, and who believes that the bread and wine really become Christ's body and blood (amongst other things). Who knew?

Well since I'm not about to change my personality nor my beliefs, I'm just going to have to find love the old fashioned way: keep updating this blog until someone -- anyone -- stumbles across it and decides that they want to befriend me on Facebook based on my cute profile pic and my cutting sense of humour.

Is he serious, is he joking? Add me as a friend on Facebook and find out...*

* I'm joking. Please don't do that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Lord, Lord"

In doing a study of Colossians 1:15-20 for my Biblical Interpretation class, I became very aware of the following: Jesus is Lord, and I am not. And to go even further with that, allow me to be so bold as to say "Jesus is Lord, and you are not".

This is the foundational truth of Christianity, but the truth of the declaration doesn't merely apply to Christians. Jesus is Lord, regardless of whether you think He is or not. Becoming a Christian doesn't involve "making Jesus Lord" as tends to be said in popular Christian-speak. You can no more make Jesus Lord than you can make a choice about who your birth mother is. You can of course deny your birth mother, and not acknowledge her status or her authority, but that doesn't change the reality of the situation. In the same way, we can deny Jesus, buy into the ideas that He never existed, or act like His existence was irrelevant, but that doesn't change what's true. We might like to think we can control our own individual worlds, but how much real power does something or someone which at one point didn't exist really have? Not as much as someone who is self-existent, that much is certain.

Which beings me to my point. Christians affirm that Jesus is Lord. Get us to complete the sentence "_____ is Lord" and hopefully we'll all get the right answer. However, though Christians acknowledge Him as Lord in theory, the practice of many lives doesn't appear to line up with the affirmation, which sadly is probably why a lot of non-Christians are skeptical about this fundamental truth.

When I look at my own life, and then the wider world of which I am a part of, I see masses of individuals who think of themselves masters of their own destiny - Christians and non-Christians alike. Yes we as Christians say that Jesus is Lord, but is that the reality on which we base our lives? Is that what we believe in our hearts and display with our actions?

I (and I'm sure I'm not alone on this) can think great things about Jesus. I can declare wonderful truths about Him, and even believe them to some degree. However, at the end of the day, my Christian walk still revolves around me. I have certain desires and goals, and because of how sufficient Jesus is, I'm sure He can meet my needs and help me to fulfill all of the things on my list.

My list can be a good list of course. It can consist of being a 'holy' person, being a good friend, finding a wonderful wife, discovering ways to use my gifts. We all have our lists, we all have needs that we want met and goals we want to accomplish. There is of course nothing wrong with any of those things, provided they are consistent with Scripture of course. (Despite what Creflo might tell you, one of the deepest human needs that God wants to satisfy is not that we get our hands on one of these, or one of these, or some of this.) God does want to meet needs, and to grant desires. He is a generous God, and He knows how to give good gifts to His children.

However, have you ever noticed where our "needs" come in the Lord's prayer? I think it is no coincidence that they come after we say "Your kingdom come, Your will be done". When we truly acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, we want what He wants above anything else. It's not that we shun our own personal happinness in exchange for a life of misery. Instead, our personal happinness becomes rooted in Christ. We are only happy when we are doing His will. We are only content when we are serving Him, when we are growing in knowledge of Him, and when we are growing the likeness of Him. None of this takes us out of the real world and into a monastery. Christ's lordship of our lives takes place in our homes, in our work places, in our churches, and wherever else He leads us. This is what it means for a Christian to be a "light of the world". We are a people who shine in darkness because we have submitted ourselves to the Light that is Christ Jesus. We are intimately joined to Him, and the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit makes visible the invisible. His kind of life shines through us to all who need it, even if they don't know they need it.

We face an uphill struggle for this to become a reality however, because in Christian culture today there is rampant expediency. And not just in the places you'd expect it, but in many unexpected places too. We are not wondering how better we might serve Christ, but instead we wonder when our lives are going to get "better" because of Christ. We wonder when becoming a Christian is finally going to pay off. Maybe you're not in this group, and that's wonderful, but I certainly am. I can carry an attitude that says something like "Well I know you saved me on the cross Jesus, but what have you done for me lately, eh?" The bottom line is that if all Jesus ever did for me was die on the cross, then He did more for me than any person ever can or will. When I lose sight of this truth, I lose both my love for Christ, my willingness to submit to Him, and as a result, my usefulness to Him.

The "willingness to submit" that is where the battle lies. We want the good parts of being a Christian -- hope for a future, occasional experiences of nice emotions, a sense of being forgiven, a community of similarly-minded friends, and if you're a guy, a very promising male to female ratio -- but we don't want the bad parts -- full obedience, rejection, lack of sensual fulfillment, a private religion that only God sees. Of course all that seems good to us isn't always good, and the "bad" things listed above don't have to be bad. However, the only way to embrace the "bad" parts of Christianity and thus fulfill our role as Christ's disciples is to live by the Spirit. The more of us we relinquish to Him, the more we will find ourselves delighting in obedience, in purity, and in our relationship with God (cultivated by prayer and Bible reading). We will submit to Christ's lordship not just because it's the right thing to do, but because nothing will make us happier. However, the more we live our Christian lives by the flesh, the more we will rely on what Christ can do for us rather than what Christ can do in us and through us. We will go about our lives in whatever way seems best to us, trying to make ourselves happy, and when we need it, we will try and tap into that sense of being forgiven, or that emotional experience of being truly loved. This may work for a time, but it will not last. Something must give, for we cannot serve two masters.

Therefore we must choose every day to serve Christ. We must acknowledge that He is Lord with both our lips and our actions. We will of course fail to please Him sometimes, for all fall short of God's glory. But we must to be quick to repent and to fall back in line again, and continually rely on His Spirit within us to produce hearts that delight themselves in the Lord.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." - Matthew 7:21-23

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Non-Calvinist's Take On Romans 9

Having passed through Romans 9 in my class on the Book of Romans, I thought I'd briefly share the bones of what was taught by a non-Calvinist in the form of Dr Arden Autry.

Overall, as uncomfortable as chapter 9 of Romans would appear to be for someone not of the Calvinist persuasion, Dr Autry dealt with it rather well, which I guess is hardly surprising given that he has basically lost count of the amount of times he has taught the book in his lifetime (somewhere close to 30 I think).

For me, a previously unstressed key to reading Romans 9 is the fact that it's part of this almost separate train of thought in Paul's writing. Taken in context, chapter 9 fits in with Paul's examination of the question of Israel and the Jews. He begins the chapter by lamenting the lack of faith in his people, and continues to focus on them throughout the next 3 chapters. Does this mean that everything he has to say is irrelevant to us today? No, but it does mean we have to be careful about how we interpret things that Paul meant to be very specific. In the Calvinist propaganda that I've read, not once has anyone mentioned the context in which this discussion on predestination is presented. That's not to say they're all wrong, but I would say that there's a very good chance of misinterpreting a text when we approach it with preconceived ideas that must be true. Calvinists and non-Calvinists are both guilty of this, which is why I would hesitate to fully identify myself with either (although by saying that I'm in the worrying position of taking a Brian McLaren-style approach to theology which might claim something like "I am not a Calvinist, but I am also not a non-Calvinist", or "I'll get back to you on Calvinism in 5 years").

Dr Autry's take on the references to Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau did not involve him denying their divine appointment by God. However, are we told where Ishmael and Esau's final destination was? The passage doesn't say that Isaac was predestined for heaven but Ishmael for hell. The passage is concerned with Isaac's role in salvation history which was established and actively brought about by God.

The same can be said for Pharaoh, who in my view actually poses one of the biggest problem to Calvinists. If we're to treat the case of Pharaoh as Calvinists do the other cases mentioned, then we must conclude that God hardens the hearts of everyone who is not "elected". However, to my knowledge, Calvinists do not concede that God actively works in people to make them refuse Him. This "hardening" is seen as God just taking the restraints off Pharaoh's heart and allowing him to be utterly evil. However, the Bible seems to make it clear that God was actively at work in Pharaoh's heart to bring about redemption and to make known His name throughout the world. To the best of my knowledge, Calvinists tend to water this down and make it "passive" interference on behalf of God in order to suit their standpoint that Paul is talking about all individuals in the history of the world in these passages, and not just the ones chosen to be a part of redemptive history. In my opinion this results in slightly skewed hermeneutics of Romans 9. We lose the plain meaning of the text to the original readers in a sea of theological abstractions, and we start reading into the text possibly beyond what it meant for the church in Rome and what it means for us today.

Does this mean that I think Calvinists have it wrong? Not necessarily. Romans 9 is by no means the only place where election is talked of, so it would be both foolish and wrong to dismiss this doctrine, because it's in the Bible unequivocally. However, by using Romans 9 as a pivotal passage for supporting their viewpoint, I think Calvinists lose the intention of the writer, who says at the beginning of the chapter, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." This is not the opening statement of someone who is about to embark on a cold discussion of the final destination of every living soul, but the lament of someone who is desperate for his people to come to faith in Christ.

There are of course other arguments to be had based on Romans 9, and I'm not suggesting that any one person has it right, but these are thoughts worth chewing on if you find yourself totally dismissive of anything resembling non-Calvinism.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

No Deal

Allow me to break from the status quo by briefly examining one of the most compelling, dramatic, and worst television shows on the air today. I'm aware that I could be describing many shows by using those three words, but the show that's on my mind having just watched it on More 4 (incidentally, can anything good come out of More 4?) is 'Deal or No Deal'. I understand that to most of my readers this show is completely foreign, or at least the UK version is, so I'm alienating quite a few of you, but since this is my blog and all I'm going to be self indulgent just this once (not counting that time I wrote half a recap on One Tree Hill of course...or the countless other times I've been self indulgent).

If you've ever watched 'Deal or No Deal', see if you can identify with some of these observations:

1 - Noel Edmunds is the sleaziest man to ever live. Everything about him just oozes sleaze - that golden/grey hair of his slicked back, those cowboy-esque boots he wears, the tight jeans, the flashy shirts, the endless flirting with anything resembling a woman. He's got it all. Of course this makes him perfect for his role as host of the most uncultured show on television since, um, Noel's House Party [?], but you just can't help feeling the need for a long shower after having watched him slither about for 40 minutes, nor can you help fearing that one day you'll turn into him and start chatting up your college-aged nieces and doing other such slimy, pervy things. This isn't to say that Noel Edmunds chats up his nieces, but if I told you he did would it surprise you?

Noel has obviously not had the easiest ride in life, so I'm not going to be too harsh on him (though I fear I may be guilty of that already). After all, he seems to be maturing a bit when it comes to women, which is evidenced by Wikipedia's comment that "Edmonds has recently stated that he is not ready to get seriously involved in a relationship so soon after his second divorce". Granted that's a bit like Steve Stauton saying that San Marino have tightened up their defense by only conceding 8 goals as opposed to the 13 they shipped in the previous game, but at least both Noel and San Marino are on the right track, right?

One other slightly odd thing on his Wiki page is found under the 'Personal Life' section. We're told there that "Edmonds has commented in favour of stricter immigration policies in the United Kingdom, feeling that the country is "full", as well as building more prisons and reducing crime and youth violence". May I ask, does anyone actually care what Noel Edmunds, presenter of the tacky gameshow Deal or No Deal, has to say on topics such as immigration policy, infrastructure, and crime? I sincerely doubt it. The only opinions we want to hear from Noel Edmunds are those that deal directly with Deal or No Deal, and even then he should keep those to a minimum.

2 - There's always a fat guy amongst the 22 contestants who's the "strategy expert". He's usually old - you know, been through it all before; seen everything - and whenever there's a decision to be made, he'll provide the "sage" insight that apparently everyone else on the show is completely oblivous to.

For example, if there are 5 boxes left, 4 of which are medium sized and one of which is the £250, 000, he'll say to the person playing the game something along the lines of "You have to be careful, because if you knock off the 250, 000 you won't be in as strong a position, so think long and hard about this decision". By adding that last part, he makes it seem as if what he has just said has opened up a whole can of worms, when in reality he's just done what I like to call a Borris Becker, i.e. stated the bleeding obvious.

The person playing the game will nod their head knowingly of course, as if they understand the profoundness what the "strategy expert" just said, and thus will take their time in making this difficult decision, when in reality they know what exactly they're going to do as soon as the options are made available. Am I accusing Deal or No deal of conjuring up tension and drama out of nowhere? Never!

3 - There's always a gay guy on the show, and he always does something wacky and gay. (As a sidenote, he's usually hit on by Noel Edmunds.)

4 - You can expect to see at least one moderately attractive woman on the show, though as soon as she begins saying things your attraction to her quickly turns into blinding hatred, where you'd give anything for her to walk away with the 1p box.

5 - 90% of the people who play the game are the most annoying, idiotic people you're ever likely to see on television. It's as if they just take 22 of the guests on the Jeremy Kyle Show and drag them on to the set of Deal or No Deal so that they can inflict further misery on all who watch daytime TV (of which I am a chief offender). They're the kind of people who shout a lot, get excited over nothing, and act as if nothing in life phases them. Even when they go from having the opportunity of banking £30, 000 to having to decide between banking £30 or risking it for a full £50, they'll maintain their defiance and treat the banker as if he's a moron, when in reality he's just dooped them out of 30, 000 quid. They'll put on an 'I don't care' face and lap up Noel's flirtacious houndings, while their timid significant other sits in the crowd wondering how they ever got involved with such a repulsive dimwit.

Unfortunately, when things go well for such a person you can expect to see much kissing, hugging, promises of streaking, talking of holidays to Ibiza, and from the overweight women, that frantic arm-waving which leaves the tricep area flapping to and fro in what has to be one of the most unattractive sights you're ever likely to witness. However, does is turn Noel Edmunds off? One can only hope so, because if not this, then what!?

Despite all these things, and many, many others, there is something so addictive about Deal or No Deal. If you don't nip it in the bud and change the channel before you care about nothing other than seeing Charlene walking away with the minimum amount of money possible, then you're in for 40 minutes of pain and personal anguish which will leave you in need of nothing short of a shower and a prolonged dose of The Wire to cleanse you and to restore your faith in both people and television.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ashes for Beauty

I've mentioned Dallas Willard before, and even given you a picture of what I imagine he looks like. If you don't know what I'm talking about then visit a previous post here. I mention him again because I've started reading his book 'The Divine Conspiracy' again, having gotten to chapter 5 and then proceeding to cheat on it with some other books such as 'Holiness' by J.C. Ryle, 'Loved by God' by R.C. Sproul and 'Stop Dating the Church' by Joshua Harris, whose penchant for talking about 'dating' is rivaled only by R.C. Sproul's penchant for talking about 'election'.

Anyway, without further delay, here's a quote from 'The Divine Conspiracy' which really captures the Jesus we read about in the Gospels, and the Jesus Christians should be presenting to those with ears:

"Our hunger for significance is a signal of who we are and why we are here, and it also is the basis of humanity’s enduring response to Jesus. For He always takes individual human beings as seriously as their shredded dignity demands, and He has the resources to carry through with His high estimate of them."

By way of qualification, that's not to say Jesus thinks we're all perfect, nor does He treat sin lightly. The message here is that when our search for significance in things like money, sex, power and intelligence leaves us still empty, when we're on our knees crying out for help, Jesus treats our pleas with the utmost compassion and sincerity. When we come crawling to Him, He shows us the wounds on His hands and sides, tells us our sins are forgiven, imparts to us His very life, and bids us to stand and be recognised as sons of the living God. People are God's most prized creation, and it is only by joining ourselves with Him do we begin to know who we are and why we are here.

Dear Readers

As a reader of this blog, I assume you're aware that I'm undertaking a year in Scripture School at the moment (I say this with rueful confidence, given that a significantly large percentage of my readers are immediate family members). And as a reader, you're probably also aware that output has dwindled over the past month or so. Well, I'm here to inform you that these two things are very much linked.

I haven't lost my verve for blogging, nor have I run out of things to write about (quite the opposite in fact). With all I'm hearing and reading and learning, I'm just bursting with fresh ideas and insights demanding to make their way onto cyberspace. However, I am but one man, and a notoriously lazy one at that. So as such, when I do decide to write, my immediate concern is to answer as many assignment questions as possible. Blogging, while enjoyable, feels like channeling my energies in the wrong direction. I mean if I'm going to write, why not just write things that help me to attain my goal of completing Scripture School?

Of course none of this is to say that I'm going to stop posting here. All I'm trying to do is explain what has already happened, because I've quite literally received one -- if not two -- queries as to why I'm not blogging as much any more. So there's your answer.