Archives For Jesus

<strike>Bruce</strike> I’m sorry, Caitlyn Jenner has been all over the news of late regarding his/her gender transition. We’re supposed to believe that a man of 65 years of age has felt like a woman all of his life, and is now letting <strike>his</strike> her true self out.

Well and good. None of us can see inside Caitlyn’s soul to judge this for ourselves. But what I find hard to fathom is that the same folks who are so loudly trumpeting the fact that we must support Caitlyn, can’t get behind Rachel Dolezal. I mean if gender dysphoria is indeed a thing, why not racial dysphoria. The woman seem to have so strongly identified with the black experience that she believes she’s black.

In this relativistic, pluralistic culture in which we live, who are we to say otherwise? Personal truth (“my truth,” “my experience”) trumps objective reality everyday of the week. We can be whomever, and whatever, we wish…

Except if we’re Rachel Dolezal claiming to be black. Then, no, that’s not okay. But if one is a woman, for instance, who objects to <strike>Bruce</strike> Caitlyn Jenner’s conscription of femininity without living the feminine experience, the one is termed “transphobic.”

My conclusion is that, along with Chesterton, “Our Father is young, and we have grown old.” We have grown old in this sin-soaked world. Sin has tainted everything–everything–we see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Our reason is fallen. In my worldview, gender dysphoria is a consequence of sin. As is claiming to be something we aren’t (this would be termed “lying”). 

But.

AND THIS IS AN AWFULLY BIG “BUT.” Nothing puts us outside the love and grace of God. There is nothing truer than what He says about us; namely, that we–whether we are Caitlyn Jenner, or Rachel Dolezal–are never beyond His love. That He sent His Son. That whether we are gay, straight, bi, transgender, or claim to be transracial, all He asks is that we come to Him to let Him make of us something new. We can debate all the live long day  about what is, or is not, sin.

But in the end, we all need Him.

That, my friends, is not relative.

Author Frank Pretty was arguably the Left Behind of the 80s. His books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness got nearly everyone reading about spiritual warfare. It was into this climate of heightened sensitivity that the late Edgar Whisenant emerged. Whisenant said that Jesus was definitely, positively, absolutely coming back on Rosh Hashannah 1988.

It was also the year I came to faith.

I didn’t know the books of the Bible from a shopping list. Although I was baptised as an infant, my family was so Protestant we didn’t bother going to church. In fact, I was so sheltered as a toddler that my only exposure to African American people was via television; I thought they were all called Sanford. In any, God wasn’t a part of my life in any discernable to me. I was an atheist by default.

As I got older, I didn’t bother to investigate these things; I just accepted evolution as the process by which we all arrived here. There was no need for God. I was a ship in the night, adrift on the winds of time. My role models were: an emotionally distant absentee dad, a workaholic mom, and later a pot smoking psychologist. I share this as background to simply illustrate that my upbringing was entirely secular, and that when I came to faith I was for all intents and purposes a blank slate.

I believe things because I didn’t know better. Kenneth Copeland? Awesome! I can write a blank check with God! Kenneth Hagan? Same deal. Benny Hinn. Yep! TBN? Good stuff! In fact, at the church I went to one night I was surrounded by sweaty-faced elders, who prayed for me to receive the evidence of the initial indwelling (that’s tongues). I was all for it, because Hey! I wanted all of God I could have.

When it didn’t happen in the accepted time, one kindly gentlemen suggested that I “Start muttering. It’ll happen.” Sure, why not?

This is the ecclesiastical milieau into which I had come when Edgar Whisenant arrived on the scene with his assertions that Jesus was absolutely, positively, most assuredly coming back. What did I know? If somebody in the know said it why it must’ve been true. I didn’t yet know Jesus’s words that “No man knows the day or the hour.”

I wasn’t the only one left disillusioned when Christ didn’t come back. Scores of (naive) people:

Racked up credit card charges

Euthanized their pets

Gave in to gluttony

Because none it mattered anymore. Jesus was coming back, ans glory! We’re going to get new bodies, someone else will assume this debt, and we’ll see poor Fluffy again up yonder. A kind of quasi-Christian fatalism took hold. Nothing we do matters because Jesus.

A lot of people woke up disillusioned on Rosh Hashannah 1988. Up their eyeballs in debt, with dead pets…

One wouldn’t think that folks could be so naive, but the simple fact of the matter is that by and large there’s a great swath of Christians who didn’t then (and who don’t now) know their Bibles.

I was but one of them. And it has taken years upon years to eradicate the disillusionment and fatalism from my soul. God never has, nor will He ever, conform to our timetable.

Only He knows the day and the hour, and He’s not sharing. The question is: are we okay with that? Can we live with the tension of not knowing, or must we exert control? Because I think that’s what a lot of the “word faith” movement amounts to: trying to control very natural fears by manipulating God.

“All right, God, I said it. You better show up.” As if He cares about our reputations. It’s lunacy. He’ll destroy our puny reputations to create in us an ounce of humility. It’s not reputation He’s after, but rather character.

Holiness.

As Chesterton said, “Our Father is young. We have sinned and grown old.” He only seems capricious and distant because of the sheer amount of baggage and abject lack of perspective we bring to the relationship. He doesn’t owe us anything, and yet we demand–thinking somehow He owes answers, lives of ease and comfort. How quickly we forget this is the same God Who spared not His own Son.

There’s tension, and mystery, we must live in.

The question becomes:

Do we trust that Father knows best. Despite all the BS, trials, tribulations, stings, disappointments, betrayals, injustices…

When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?

Will He?

It’s up to us. God help us.

House of Cards has taken the traditional TV model by the lapels of its finely pressed suit and has given it a run for its money. It is the Game of Thrones of political drama. People subscribe to Netflix just for House of Cards.

There are numerous reasons for this. Chief among them are:

Kevin Spacey. There’s no doubting the man’s acting chops. He brings gravitas, strength, and ferocity to his portrayal of Frank Underwood.

Robin Wright. A similarly gifted actress, first seen in The Princess Bride, and easily Spacey’s equal in this.

David Fincher. Director, auteur, helmer of some of the most engrossing, if dark, movies in history: Se7en, The Social Network, Gone Girl, and others.

Not to mention that the show, while based upon an earlier British miniseries, is written by Washington insider Beau Willimon.

While that pedigree–the quality of the show’s writing, acting, production, and direction gets people in the door (so to speak)–lends the show a great deal of credibility, it’s not why I continue to watch. Sure, the quality of the performances got me hooked–no doubt. But I keep watching because it’s a human story.

It’s my story.

It’s your story.

Quite honestly, how many among us would be immune to the intoxicating allure of power continuously dangled in front of our noses? As the saying goes, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Within the construct of the the show, the catalyst which sets events in motion is a promise denied. Frank is promised an auspicious position, but is told things have changed. The sense of betrayal causes him (and his wife, Claire) to throw off all previous loyalties in pursuit of power. This, of course, leads to all manner of dark and dangerous places.

The thing is, and this is the show’s genius, who among us (though the particulars are different) hasn’t felt betrayed? Who hasn’t felt, like Frank, of casting off allegiances and getting what’s due us? While we deplore his actions, we gobble them up because he gives us a guilt-free means of vicariously living through him. So this is what it’s like, we ask ourselves? This is what it’s like to get what we (feel) we deserve.

Which proves–if we’re honest–that we all have an inner “Frank Underwood,” that black dog of our souls who:

Looks out for #1

Uses others to get what we want

Stops at nothing in pursuit of our ends

Which just shows our continuing need for Jesus, and the new life only he can give.

If we’ve hated in our hearts… He died for that.

If we’ve sought revenge… He died for that, too.

In short, if we’re human we’re flawed, marred by sin, in need of a Savior. The very one who, within the show, that Underwood denies is the one who can set us on the path to a true and lasting life. The presidency–power–is but a drop in the bucket in light of eternity.

Choose you this day. Who will you serve? Yourself, your inner “Frank,” or the One Who died that you might truly live?

The story of Ehud in Judges chapter three is a short, probably familiar, one. What follows is a poetic retelling of the events of that chapter.

After Othniel, all Israel sinned–
handed over into the hands of their enemies (again)
When 18 years had gone by,
with one voice they cried
(in wailings not to be denied):
Restore, renew, revive
Deliver us once more–
do not ignore our pleading
God had a plan:
Raising up Ehud, a left-handed man
Who by the word crafted a sword,
Strapping it to his right thigh
Eglon the king’s time was nigh
Bringing tribute to the king,
Ehud left, but returned again
With a word from the Lord
(sharper than the two-edged sword)
Locking the chamber, not knowing his danger,
Eglon arose with expectant ear
Not at all knowing his end drew near
Reaching over, with nary a swagger,
Ehud unleashed his mighty dagger
Plunging it into the belly of the king
In it went, past the hilt, sinking
Past layers of blubber
Eglon was done, his bell rung
And out of his belly came the dung
Falling upon the floor
Ehud escaped, the king’s servants
Waiting, anxious, outside the chamber door
After some time passed, and then some more
Unlocking the portal, upon entering
What did they see?
But the slumped Eglon, cooling upon the tile,
Blood and excrement mixt all the while
Whilst the Lord, through Ehud, gave the victory
10,000 Moabites slain, Israel now free

What I love about the Old Testament is that it is full of stories like this one. Stories of regular people used of God at just the right time. What I also love is that there are layers upon layers of meaning. For instance, the account here gives us enough to go on. Just as telling is what it doesn’t say. The events described have been going on for eighteen years. Likely, as Josephus says, this is not Ehud’s first rodeo; he has been there before. To be able to hide the sword as he does folks would have already had to know he was left handed (else his ruse wouldn’t have worked). Moreover, to get a private audience with the king he had to have been someone known, i.e. a trusted entity. Ehud was known to Eglon and his court.

Beyond the mere happenstance, the events themselves, scholars have used the phrase “types and shadows” to describe much of the Old Testament. Types of Christ, of sin, and shadows of things to come. For instance, in the story of Ehud, what is he called in verse five?

Deliverer.

Who else do we know by that name–deliverer? Jesus, of course.

In this passage, Ehud is a type of Christ. What does he do? In verse twenty-one, he puts to death Eglon–that is to say, sin. Eighteen years the Children of Israel lived under the oppressive yolk of Eglon, finally crying out to the Father. God raises up a deliverer to put an end to the oppression. Judgment came by way of an eighteen inch sword.

In Revelation 19:15, it is said of the Lord Jesus that “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (ESV)

The sword is also symbolic, for now in the church age God has put to death sin once and for all in the body of the Lord Jesus, e.g., He is our Ehud. Yet, we have to want to be free. Like the Children of Israel, we often turn away, cry out for deliverance.

God always answers. Now, however, instead of putting to death the enemy outside (for whom He call us to pray), He calls us to look inward–in a way handing us a blade called candor, asking us to plunge into our own bellies, our own hearts. To get to the freedom offered us in His grace we must take that painful look inside ourselves at the ugliness which often lay within, exposing it to the light. This is why Jesus counsels us to remove the log from our own eyes before we take our brothers and sisters to task for the specks in theirs.

What is God asking you to look at today? Are you avoiding it? Denying it? Do you want to be free? In light of verses 21-22 (“Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out”), is there anywhere in your life where the sword called truth needs to penetrate that the filth may come out?

Reading, like anything else worth doing, requires intentionality. It’s a discipline. People who view reading as a leisure time activity are not, in my estimation, actually readers at all. For only someone who doesn’t read could so readily overlook the commitment of time, mental acuity, and emotional investment that reading requires of the reader.

It may be passive in the sense that one is typically not up and moving around while reading. But there is much activity occurring underneath the cranium. To look at a reader is akin (in a sense) to look at someone suffering from a chronic illness: just because one doesn’t see something going does not mean that nothing indeed is going on.

Think of all the time people these days put into binge watching Netflix, for instance, and multiply that 100x for a reader engaged with a beloved book. There is an investment there. It takes discipline to tune out: the T.V., music, Twitter, Facebook, etc. It takes commitment to continue. The characters become in a very real sense friends–we live, laugh, love, suffer, and die with them.

They become family.

Which is why this Lenten season I’m committed to reading as many books as possible which confront in my comforts, skewer my denials, challenge my assumptions; in short, bring me up short, showing me my abject poverty, mortality, and my utter need for Christ.

Who’s with me?