Monthly Archives: June 2014

Let it Go: Cathartic, but no place to live

Like many households with young children, ours has been filled with the music of Frozen. My daughter seems to be constantly singing “Fixer Upper”, “For the First Time in Forever” and, of course, everybody’s favorite, “Let it Go.”

“Let it Go” is by far the most famous song of the movie as evidenced by cover after cover after cover on YouTube and Facebook. Yes, it’s an extremely catchy tune, but I think it’s so popular because it strikes a deep emotional chord with so many people.

We’ve all been there. Having tried and tried to meet other peoples’ expectations, or hide a deep desire, or conceal a thought, we finally blow up. “Let it go, let it go” the song encourages and we say “Yes.” “I don’t care what they’re going to say” Elsa sings and we say “Preach it!” We want to break free! Elsa imagines that in fleeing to the mountains to live in isolation she is freeing herself from the rules that contained her and filled her with dread. Her fantasy is ours: “It’s time to see what I can do // To test the limits and breakthrough // No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free.” Oh, in those moments of frustration it seems so good.

But it’s just a fantasy. It’s not real.

This is clear in the arc of the movie. Elsa believed that because she had isolated herself from others that she was free. She was so worried about hurting others that she thought her only recourse was to get away, to live alone, to be the queen of her own existence.

But that’s not how it worked. While she thought her decisions didn’t impact anybody else, the reality was that she had thrown the whole country into a state of perpetual winter. She thought she was less destructive than before but in fact her isolation and self-determination was more destructive than she could ever imagine.

For the story to work “Let it Go” had to happen, but it couldn’t end there. If it had ended at “Let it Go” the movie would have ultimately been a tragedy. Elsa would have been living out her existence in isolation and the country would have been stuck in a state of perpetual winter. Her escape was cathartic, maybe even necessary, but it was no place to stay.

So what freed her and those around her? Love.

The genius of Frozen is that its main themes are broad enough to be interpreted differently by so many people. I don’t the intentions of the writers, but if I didn’t know better I would say that Frozen has an extremely Christian perspective on love. In Frozen romantic love takes a back seat to love understood more abstractly. At one point Anna says “I don’t even know what love is” to which her snowman (hey, it’s a kids movie) says, “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”

I couldn’t have hardly put it better myself, or in more biblical terms.

What ultimately saves the day is an act of “true love.” But that act of true love isn’t a kiss; it’s an act of sacrifice. Anna ends up saving her sister by jumping between a sword and Elsa. This sacrificial act saved both Anna, who had been turned to ice, and Elsa who was transformed by seeing her sister’s act of love.

The end game for Elsa wasn’t “Let it Go.” She had to throw off both fear-driven isolation and autonomy-driven isolation in order to finally find true freedom. In her new found freedom she was finally able to direct her actions toward the good of others.

We live in a “Let it Go” kind of world, clinging to the fantasy that “no rules for me” can somehow be achieved without isolating ourselves and destroying the world around us. This new dawn, this throwing off of rules, is tempting. It’s also destructive. It’s cathartic, but it’s no place to live.

The answer to our fear isn’t autonomy. It’s love. It’s sacrificial love. And that sacrificial love is what truly frees us.

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Book Review: The Greatest Words Ever Spoken

The Greatest Words Ever Spoken by Steven K. Scott is a reference book which contains all the words of Jesus organized by topic. Each major section contains introductory remarks from Scott.  This is a helpful resource for Biblical study and devotional reading though it is not exhaustive. I have used it several times in sermon and teaching preparation and it will probably continue to be resource on the bookshelf in my office/study.

I do have two words of caution:

First, keep in mind that these kind of compilation works rip passages out of their original context. That’s not a problem, per se, unless this book is your only resource on a topic. Ultimately, each passages needs to be understood in the context given by the author of the Biblical book.

Second, keep in mind that this book isn’t exhaustive. I put the book to the test while doing some research on the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven. I noticed that it included the text from Matthew 16:16 – 17 (Peter’s confession of Christ) and Matthew 16:24 – 28 (If anyone comes after me he must take up his cross) but it excludes Matthew 16:18 – 19, which actually contains the words “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…” I’m not sure if this is an error on the part of the author or if the passage is excluded for some other purpose. Either way, I trust the book a bit less to provide me with everything Jesus said on a given topic.

In conclusion, it’s a worthwhile resource, but it shouldn’t be either the only or main resource when researching Jesus’ teaching on a given topic.

5 Crazy Acts of Faith (And a 6th That Will Blow Your Mind)!

It's a trap!

It’s a trap!

If headlines like the one above are any indication we are a culture obsessed with the extraordinary. I’m pretty sure that what’s true in the broader culture is true in the church as well. We love amazing stories of faith. They inspire us to dream big and act boldly. This is all good unless it means we begin viewing ordinary acts of faith as something sub-Christian. Sometimes God uses ordinary acts of faith for extraordinary purposes. Case in point: Daniel. Daniel is by every standard a hero of remarkable faith but what did he actually do? Here are his 5 (+1) crazy acts of faith:

  1. Daniel obeyed God’s laws. Daniel and his friends were carried off as exiles and eventually found themselves in the court of the king. To get them in top condition they were assigned a daily portion of royal food. Daniel, observing God’s laws regarding diet, “resolved not to defile himself with royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way.” After some bargaining Daniel and his friends were allowed to eat only vegetables and drink only water. Because of their obedience God blessed them with knowledge, understanding, and favor with the king.
  2. Daniel gave God glory. OK, so Daniel did have one extraordinary ability. He could prophetically interpret dreams. When the king had a troubling dream Daniel stepped forward to interpret it. The King asked “Are you able to tell me what my dream was or what it means?” Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician, or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” Daniel was always careful to give honor and glory to God.
  3. Daniel had integrity. Eventually Daniel became a ruler of significance in his land of exile. Far from protecting Daniel, his new position made him a target. His coworkers became jealous and looked for a way to bring him down. But they couldn’t. Daniel 6:4 says, “At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”
  4. Daniel worked hard. Did you notice the last word of 6:4? Daniel was neither corrupt (he had integrity) and nor was he negligent. He worked hard. He carried out his responsibilities to the best of his abilities.
  5. Daniel prayed. When those who wanted to bring Daniel down couldn’t find anything wrong with his life they looked for some other way to trap him and they eventually discovered they could trap him in his piety. They convinced the king to issue a decree that said that anyone who prayed to someone other than the king would be thrown into the lions den. So what did Daniel do? “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
  6. Daniel did all these things all the time: Going to pray got Daniel in trouble. You know the story. He was thrown into a den of lions but God miraculously saved him. But what did Daniel do to get himself into that crazy situation? What were his extraordinary acts of faith? He worked hard. He obeyed God. He prayed. He gave God glory. He did all this when he was a lowly exile. He did it when he was boss over much of the kingdom. He did it when he knew to continue to do so would lead to his execution. And that’s what is truly remarkable. God used some pretty ordinary acts of faith to bring Himself glory.

We as the church in America are coming to grips with the reality that we do not live in a Christian nation. I’m inclined to think we never really did. Perhaps it’s just the veil being lifted. Regardless, those who want to remain faithful to God will find themselves in positions like Daniel. What will set the faithful apart will not be extraordinary acts of faith, but rather simple piety and obedience carried out in good times and in bad.

C.S. Lewis’ dystopia in The Abolition of Man

C.S. Lewis’ chief aim in The Abolition of Man is to show how untenable life outside belief in some objective, external natural moral law, what he calls The Tao,really is. In the third and final chapter of this short book Lewis presents a sort of dystopia, a picture of what life could be life if fully disconnected from the Tao.

He starts by asking what is meant by the phrase “Man’s conquest of Nature.”

His answer is that “what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” In the case of airplanes, some men exercise either cohesive power over other men by using the planes to drop bombs on them or implicit power by simply withholding other men the luxury of flight. In the case of contraceptives, one generation exercises power over the next generation.

It is this power of one generation over another which is particularly interesting to Lewis, a point he says which is often overlooked.

“In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors.”

From here Lewis imagines a generation which is on the one side most “liberated” from the tradition of the powers of its ancestors and on the other side possessing the ability, by eugenics, scientific education, and propaganda, to exercise great power over any succeeding generations. Lewis calls this generation (and indeed only a select few members of this generation) the Conditioners.

“Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundred men over billions upon billions of men… Each new power won by man is a power over man as well… For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”

Some might ask, “Hasn’t every generation sought to condition the next generation through education?” Lewis answers yes to this question but notes two big differences between the old system and the new. The first difference is that the Conditioners will possess a potentially “irresistible scientific technique.” The second, more dangerous difference is that the Conditioners will teach as those apart from the Tao.

“In the older system both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao – a norm to which the teachers were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen.”

The Conditioners, having “debunked” the ideas of the Tao will be at liberty to define it as they will, for their own purposes.

“Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education… It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered… They know how to produce conscience and decided what kind of conscience to produce.”

So what kind of conscience will they decide to produce? An objective moral conscience is off the table since they view it only as myth. At first the Conditioners, holding on to some idea of moral law, may wish to produce a conscience in line with the Tao, but this only results from confusion. They will dig down, but find nothing objective:

“However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once a petition. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”

They will find one motive that resists being debunked: emotional impulse. This cannot be debunked because it is not objective: “What never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivisim… When all that says, ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

The Conditioners, then, will be men who by their own logic (or rather, illogic) will be driven by their impulses.

“It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas that the motives of the Conditioners will spring. Their extreme rationalism, by ‘seeing through’ all ‘rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of a wholly irrational behavior.”

What then, is the whole picture of Lewis’ dystopia?

“At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses.”

 

Note: The full text of The Abolition of Man is available here.

 

It’s All Within?

Facebook is often a great source for blogging material. In this case I saw two quotes from very different sources (one a Christian brother, the other not) both praising the benefits of our internal strength. One was in praise of a homeopathic approach to health and the other was a quote from a Buddhist.

Starting with the Buddhist quote:

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to become better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” –Musashi Miyamoto

Maybe I’m just not getting the point but my initial response would be to say, “The paycheck that I just deposited says otherwise. The crackers I just ate out the cupboard say otherwise. The joy I get from celebrating my 9 year anniversary with my wife says otherwise. The education that I got says otherwise.” All of these things come from outside of me. The best I can do is accept, learn, grow. None of this comes out of the void of my existence. Miyamoto was a swordsman. Did he not receive instruction? Did he not give it? The myth that everything we need for our own existence lies within ourselves is destroyed everyday experience. We are inherently dependent upon the world outside of ourselves and we’re wise to seek it.

Now for the homeopathic quote (which has mysteriously disappeared). It said something along the lines of “our power to heal comes from within” to which another friend correctly responded, “it may have been planted within but it comes from God.” Certainly our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator, but our Creator also made the whole of the universe. And he has blessed doctors and scientists and researches with the ability to find new ways to harness creation for our good. All these powers to heal come from the outside, not within. And, both our bodies and the medicine which works to heal our bodies come from our Creator.

We are irrevocably dependent creatures.

The same truth that applies to biological dependency also applies to spiritual dependency. The world tells us to find spiritual truth “within” our selves. But where will we turn when our selves, spiritually and bodily are wasting away? When we make ourselves our god, our god dies when we die, and we run the risk of offending the One True God, the only One who is not dependent. And yet, amazingly, while the self-existent God could have spent his time navel gazing on into eternal bliss He is nevertheless a radically outward-oriented God. His is not outward-oriented like we are, by necessity, but out of life-giving creative love.

Looking only within vastly overestimates whatever internal strength, intelligence, or goodness we might have. Instead, look up with dependency to the self-existent and eternal Creator.

The Fear that Takes Away Fear

This upcoming Sunday I’ll be preaching out of Hebrews 11:23-28 and the story of Moses. The story of Moses interpreted through the lens of Hebrews is fascinating because in Exodus Moses is characterized by fear (2:14; 4:13) but in Hebrews he is commended for his courage (11:27). I’m probably like young, scared Moses, but his story tells me that there’s hope I might become courageous yet.

Moses overcame his fear when he “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” and when he “saw him who is invisible.” But the defining moment of Israel’s salvation, the Passover, is a story of fear. Those who were saved were saved because they feared and those who were destroyed were destroyed because they didn’t. The issue wasn’t the presence or absence of fear but with where that fear was placed.

Pharaoh had good reason to fear God. He witnessed plague after plague and yet Moses could still say to him in the midst of it “I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God” (9:31). Despite having every reason to fear God they failed to do so.

By contrast when the Israelites heard the command to participate in the Passover meal and apply the blood to the doorposts they obeyed. They feared God and obeyed and, in doing so, they removed any reason to be afraid. They knew that this was the final stage of their deliverance from slavery. No longer would they fear the chains of oppression, abuse, and violence. They also knew that by obeying God by celebrating Passover, they did not have to fear the destroying angel.

The fear of the Lord is the recognition of his awesome and terrible power. Jesus tells us in Luke 12 “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” God has the authority to throw us into hell and we are wise to fear that awesome authority. But when our fear is well placed, and we obey him by trusting his salvation, all fear is removed.

In the very same passage as the one quoted above Jesus goes on to tell us of God’s particular care. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

No doubt with some reference to the Exodus the writer of Hebrews declares “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Likewise, John tells us “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Those who fear God have nothing left to fear. We need not fear what man can do – God is sovereign. We need not fear disgrace – the affirmation of Christ is of greater value. We need not fear any human authority – there is a higher one still. We need not fear death – we have a sure reward. We need not fear the judgment – Jesus has taken it for us. Ironically, the fear of the Lord, when combined with obedience and trust, leads to peace, courage, and freedom.

6 Things Men Can Learn from #YesAllWomen

When I first saw the #YesAllWomen tag show up in social media I was skeptical and a bit defensive. But as I have continued to read the tweets and articles I’ve had a change of heart. The social media movement is diverse and so are the messages. Certainly various groups are using the #YesAllWomen tag to promote things I disagree with (i.e., pro-abortion). But there are many constructive voices in the conversation as well and, I think, there’s a lot men can learn from this movement. And so, instead of staying out of the fray like I probably should, here are 6 things men (especially godly men) would be wise to learn from the #YesAllWomen campaign.

1)      Misogyny really is pervasive. I was skeptical of the “All” part of the tag at first but as I thought through the women in my life who I have known particularly well I realized that all of them have faced some kind of misogyny from men because they are women. The point of the #YesAllWomen campaign is to give voice to women who have faced violence or abuse. As men, we’re wise to open our eyes and our ears.

2)      Popular media promotes the objectification of women. I read a devastating article  (caution: strong language!) about misogyny in Geek culture. Popular movies and culture promote a conquest mentality when it comes to sexuality. Men are “manly” because they get (and bed) the girl. Men, this is a lie! Don’t believe what the broader culture tells you about being a man. This vision of the sexual conqueror is antithetical to God’s vision of a one-woman-man.

3)      Pornography is like pop-culture on steroids. I feel like there’s an elephant in the room that I hardly ever see connected to the #YesAllWomen campaign: Pornography. Pornography is everything bad about cultural misogyny to the Nth degree: Objectification of women. Promotion of male entitlement. Pervasive aggression. Pornography is creating a generation of men with unrealistic and misogynistic views of women and sex.

4)      Fathers, teach your sons to be protectors, not perpetrators. We need men who view women as people created in the image of God, due respect, honor, and dignity, and not as objects used for pleasure. Teach your sons to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2).

5)      Fathers, love your daughters. Teach them that their value doesn’t lie in their physical appearance. Show them that their value comes from God, that they are made in his image, and that this worth and dignity can never be taken away. Finally, be a father who protects and cares for his daughter. Girls who have supportive fathers are far better off than those who don’t.

6)      Husbands, follow the example and commands of Christ. Love your spouse as Christ loved the church. Husbands are to love their wives not with selfishness but with sacrifice. In loving your wife in this way you will model to your sons how to treat women and to your daughters how they should expect to be treated.

What are your thoughts on the #YesAllWomen campaign? What constructive things can we learn from it?