This is good news. In a few moments, we'll have a computer at home again. Lugging this work laptop back and forth isn't as fun as it sounds. And on top of that, I won't have to deal with PC problems anymore!
OK, I haven’t been keeping up with my promise to blog about this every day, but I am reading through this every day and talking about it with my good friend Brad on a weekly basis. Last night, we talked through day nine in Piper’s book which talks about how Christ’s Death allows for our forgiveness.
Usually one defines forgiveness as something that’s all about grace from the perspective of the one recieving it rather than the one giving it- if my mortgage were forgiven it would mean that I wasn’t required to pay any longer (self-centered). In the case of Christ’s Death, we’re talking about ultimate forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness means that we don’t have to worry about the eternal consequences of sin (self-centered).
But we rarely think about what forgiveness COSTS the person giving it.
When we teach our children to forgive others, we tend to leave out the part about how much it costs the person doing the forgiving. We focus on letting the other person off the hook instead of on the person forgiving and on the incrimental costs associated with when a real debt is forgiven.
If my mortgage were forgiven it means that I don’t have to pay it back, sure, but it also means that the bank has to give up the right to collect money from me. Money that they shelled out in the first place. They lose out. It costs something.
It costs something when God forgives sin, too. He’s got to figure out a way to punish sin because that’s the cost that sin requires. Pouring out that cost on His son was the only way for Him to truly enact grace to us.
On a more personal note, I’m beginning to realize that if I tell someone that I forgive them, it’s gotta cost me something. I can’t just blow it off when someone truly lets me down. In order to forgive, I have to truly give up the right to feel angry at them or stew about it. Otherwise, it’s not actually true forgiveness, is it?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Galatians 3:13
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:25
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10
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I’ve often noted that there seems to be a lot of “God’s Wrath” in the Old Testament and then this seemingly different God who wants to be friends with us in the New Testament. It’s a contradiction that doesn’t go unnoticed and is often debated among my friends- even if it’s not something that’s debated in the upper echelons of theology buffs.
What I’ve decided recently is that the writers of the Old Testament knew that they were under the law. They knew that there was a set of rules or a moral code that must be followed in order to be considered righteous before God. They also knew how incredibly impossible it was to adhere to the standard set before them. Even the best of them was required to provide blood offerings yearly to atone for their shortcomings. They knew that once the rules were broken, someone had to pay.
But the writers of the New Testament lived in a different reality. They were writing their epistles with a different view of the law and the payment for breaking it.
They had the Cross.
They had a visual picture of the Wrath of God poured out on the Son of Man and so they knew that the price had been paid. So although they understood the importance of the law, they also knew that it was a law that would bring freedom rather than guilt for the price of breaking that law had already been paid.
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I'm spending 50 days thinking about The Cross in Preparation for Christmas. If you want to join me you can head hear each day for discussions. If you really want to dig in, you can read John Piper's book The Passion of Christ at the following link:
I’m looking forward to the conversations!
In preparation for the upcoming Christmas season, I decided that I needed to focus on the cross a bit more. I know, I know, this seems a little strange that in preparation for the celebration of Life and Light I would be focusing on Death, but as you know, I’ve never been one to do things the “right way.” One reason I’m doing this is because of the emphasis that’s been placed on Matthew 5-6 as Gospel rather than the entire picture that’s painted in the four epistles that tell the story of Christ.
This isn’t to say that that focusing only on the cross is Gospel either, but since my attention has been so deeply rooted on some of the Brian McLaren’s and others of this generation, I think it’s best to give credence to the reformed side again as a counterweight that will keep me balanced rather than crashing into either extremely liberal or conservative theology.
The postmoderns have argued that by focusing on the Cross too much, we’ve missed what Jesus says and we’ve missed how Jesus lived. They’ve shifted the attention to the teachings and the behaviors of Jesus while he was living. They’ve used statements like “The Kingdom of Heaven is here…” to show us that we, too, can live differently and invite Heaven into earth.
While this is well and good, a downfall to this line of thinking is that it begs the question: if all we need to do is behave according to the Beatitudes and other teachings of Christ, then why did Jesus need to die? Couldn’t he have taught these things and then mentored His disciples into the kind of people who would cause these behaviors to flourish among the human race?
If Christ’s life and teaching that (as Rob Bell says), “You Don’t Have to Live This Way” are the end-all-be-all of Gospel, then we’re no different than any other religion out there with a set of appropriate behaviors to follow in order to attain heaven. And I think this is why I see a lot of my friends in this generation looking at other religions with interest. Since they’ve come to believe that the Beatitudes are the only Gospel, they don’t see any need to follow “Christianity” since they firmly believe that Christ’s teachings are better practiced in Buddhism, Islam, or Humanism.
But here’s the thing: Death is the distinction between Christianity and the other major religions out there. And forgetting the Cross is the most dangerous thing that we can do to our faith.
I’m going to be honest, I haven’t spent much time thinking about the Cross lately.
I’ve been wrapped up in being a father to my son and a husband to my wife. I’ve been trying to live out the teachings of Christ in my family. This has been an honorable pursuit which has stretched me and made me give up a lot of the things that I held near and dear to my heart- but it’s also made me lose focus of Christ’s Death. It’s made me forget that the only reason I’m able to live the way I do is because the “old way” has been put to Death with Christ.
So I’ve decided to spend my time prior to Christmas working through a book by John Piper. It’s called The Passion of Jesus Christ: 50 Reasons Why He Came to Die. I figure that spending a bit of time each day thinking about Christ’s death will help me put the Cross back into perspective during a time when we’ll be celebrating Christ’s birth. I’ll post thoughts here during the week and I’d love to have a conversation with anyone who’s reading along.
In fact, I’d love to have you join me for this exploration of Christ’s Suffering and Death. Even if you don’t like John Piper or don’t agree with Christianity, it might be an interesting way to think through the next few weeks.
So if you want to read along with me, you can download the book in .pdf form by clicking on the link below or pasting it into your browser: http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_pojc/bpojc_all.pdf
I’m looking forward to the conversations!
I'm a very strong advocate for limited government (as anyone reading this blog should know by now), but that doesn't mean that I'm not compassionate or that I care only about myself. In fact, I've been learning more and more about selflessness since having a baby and I'm fairly confident that I care about the needs of other people to the point where I'm willing to donate time/money to making sure other people are doing life well (whatever that means for them).
As a Christian, I believe that we should look out for the poor, the needy, the downtrodden- but when I say "we" I don't mean the government. I mean you and I. Yes, whoever you are reading this right now, I mean that you and I have the responsibility to make a difference in other people's lives.
The best healthcare reform I've ever experienced was when my friend Jamie put together a small task force of friends who held a garage sale and donated some of their own money in order to help us pay for some unexpected medical expenses.
And likewise, it's when I've been the one who's served a meal to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, or helped a friend move into a new apartment, or donated some shoes to kid in the Dominican Republic, or shucked corn for a church potluck, that a real difference has been made. Not only in the lives of those whom I've served, but in me, too.
I'm better because of giving.
Some friends of mine began a ministry called Home Sweet Homeless where they head downtown once or twice a month and share a meal or a movie with the homeless in Orlando. They don't just give them cash or food- they spend time with them and learn about their stories and give them a chance to feel like a cared for human being.
These guys (and girls) aren't waiting to send in a government proxy that's going to lend a helping hand to their friends. They aren't just legislating compassion. They're out there BEING compassion.
Whatever ends up happening with healthcare and Wall Street and banking and the Federal Reserve- I'd encourage you not to miss out on the personal, individual benefits of serving the community. Government programs don't have the personal touch that a friend coming along side us does.
So rather than send in a proxy that will take care of social justice- take the initiative to make social justice happen right now. You don't need Barack Obama, Ron Paul, or Bono in order to do good for those around you. You can be the Change that you've been waiting for.
A few weeks ago, I was out in the backyard pulling some grass and weeds out of the small garden plot I planted and I noticed some tree limbs sticking out of the ten foot bushes that line one of our fences. As it turns out, my fence isn’t lined with ten foot bushes, it’s lined with trees that have been overgrown by ivy to the point where they are unable to continue growing. Left unattended, they’d probably die within a few more years and I’d be stuck with a thicket of brambles. So, this weekend I put on some gloves, got out the hedge trimmers and began to cutting away.
Four hours later…
I had a stack of debris so deep it’ll take a few weeks before the city will haul it all away, but I can finally see the trees that were underneath. And my backyard looks awful now.
I think the trees are going to survive, but they had been sitting under so much ivy that they’re all on the brink of death and look as if they just survived a hurricane. The fence isn’t much better. For a moment, I almost regretted taking it all down. I mean, it didn’t really look too bad to begin with and it’ll be years before these trees rebound back to health again.
While I was working, I couldn’t help noting how similar ivy is to sin.
You see like ivy, sin also creeps in and takes over, gradually killing whatever is underneath it. At first, it may look good. It may even be planted there on purpose. Plenty of us knowingly and willingly put things into our lives that could get out of control if they aren’t handled properly. We tell ourselves that we’re able to confine it all to one area of our lives, but we’re fooling ourselves. You see, sin never stays put. It reaches out from where it starts and stretches into to other areas of our lives, too. It’s always expanding, always growing, always looking for something or someone else to consume.
And sin doesn’t stop with one person, either. Its web of destruction will take down a whole community- just as ivy takes out an entire row of trees.
And then there’s the removal process. It turns out that just like ivy, getting rid of sin is back-breaking work that leaves you exhausted, bruised, and beat up. When it’s finally gone (or mostly gone), the landscape of our lives is riddled with the evidence of destruction. Often, we look and feel worse off than when the sin was in full form, which makes us tempted to go back to what we had so that we can escape the prying eyes that see damage and guilt instead of beauty.
Removing sin and ivy isn’t fun. It’s definitely not how I’d like to spend my weekend. But I feel like the work I did on the yard and the work I’ve done in my life has been time well spend. You see, I think the future is worth the effort we exert, today. Things will be better then because of the pains I’ve taken to fix things.
I bet my yard is going to look a lot better in a few years and I’ll remember with fondness the time I spent to make it that way. I bet my life will look better, too!
I’ve been off the blog for a few days now because I took an extended Labor Day weekend retreat with my family. We went down to Walt Disney World Resort and played in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios for a few days.
As a former theme park employee, I’ve seen the stress that’s caused by visiting an expensive place like Disney. The heat makes everyone grumpy, the prices makes everyone stressed out about “getting their money’s worth” out of the experience, and so the dream vacation often ends up with family quarrels and disagreements.
We decided to do things differently.
Now, I’m surely not a professional vacationer or anything, but I have to say that by following the “rules” below I really enjoyed our family retreat and I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I’d suggest these for any vacation, but particularly if you’re going to be heading to a theme park.
Rule One: Disconnect
Other than our phones, we decided that the best way to spend our time together would be disconnected from the internet, social networks, and other outside experiences. We left the computers at home and didn’t use our phones to access our e-mail, facebook, or twitter.
As difficult as it might have been to break my internet addition- I gotta admit that I didn’t really miss it that much. I mean, I like spending time with my wife and my child. And with my attention focused on them and on the experiences at hand, there wasn’t really a lot of time to miss my “online presence.”
Rule Two: Don’t Do Everything
Theme Parks are huge. In a really part of the year like the beginning of November, it might be possible to do experience most of what’s offered in a Theme Park, but not on Labor Day Weekend- and most certainly not with a seventeen month old in tow. It’s just not realistic to expect to do everything and so we maximized each moment by enjoying all the things we were engaged with at that moment instead of rushing onward to the next thing.
Rule Three: Do Things That Everyone Will Enjoy
So, you agree not to do everything. Great. Then what DO you do with all the possibilities out there?
I think it's best to focus on things that everyone will enjoy. For instance, my son is too young and too short to experience some the activities at Disney. He’s not going to be going on a rollercoaster for a few more years and some of the attractions are a little too advances for his attention span or abilities. So we stuck with things that were exciting for him. We spend 15 minutes watching him watch the dolphin swim past the viewing window. We rode the Mexico ride twice.
The only two times we broke this “rule” was when we took him on the Energy Ride (boring) and later went to the Nine Dragons Restaurant in China. Boy did we regret it!
He was a mess. He wanted to run around and we were making him sit on our laps on a loud, boring movie ride or sit up in a high chair while we were anxious about the fact that his high pitched shrills were bothering everyone else.
The entire experience worked much better when we merely enjoyed the things that he enjoyed instead of trying to get him to enjoy the things we wanted to do.
Rule Four: Take Naps, Drink Water, and Eat Regularly
Who wants to be cranky on vacation?
Yet, I’ve seen a lot of parents pushing their kids beyond naptime when they’re too young to be without naptime. I’ve seen people in the parks dehydrated because they forget that walking around in the hot sun is taxing. I’ve seen people forget to eat because of the excitement around them. All these things add up to disaster- a big blowout fight waiting to happen because everyone’s on edge because of exhaustion.
We brought a big water bottle with us and drank from it often. We got a big breakfast every day and then tried to eat regularly, even though it meant buying overpriced theme park food. But most importantly, we napped.
Because we stayed at one of the onsite hotels, we were within about 30-40 minutes of a bed at all times. The busses dropped us off and picked us up at each park and delivered us close to our room within a fairly reasonable time, anytime we needed. So, we went to the park for a few hours in the morning, went back to the hotel from about 12:30-3:00pm and came back and spent the afternoon and early evening at the park again before bed.
We missed the really hot, crowded times and were fresh and ready to go in the evening when everyone else was dragging and beginning to get cranky with each other.
Rule Five: Leave Time to Recoup After Vacation
As good as vacation can be when it’s truly relaxing, it can be stressful to head back to work the day after returning from vacation. We spent two nights at the Disney hotels and two and a half days at the theme parks. Then we came home and spent two and a half days at home, hanging out and recouping.
Vacation is only a success if it doesn’t cause more stress- and having a normal weekend to mow the lawn, hang out together, and do the typical stuff that needs to get done during time off is an important part of vacation. It meant that my mind was completely focused on my family and my surroundings instead of thinking about when I was going to get the ivy pulled down from the side of the house or get the ironing done.
Something that bothers a lot of Christians (and non-Christians) is the seeming contradiction of God’s character between the Old & New Testament. In the Old Testament, God often seems very angry with people- like a cruel old man seeking vengeance on anyone or anything that doesn’t fall in line with His ways. Then comes the New Testament and suddenly God seems to become a kind and loving father who patiently waits for everyone to come home into His arms.
This apparent split personality of God has been one of the most difficult issues for anyone who studies the Bible. Some of my friends think that maybe God's been evolving and adapting, just like we do. But I wonder if it's merely that we're gowing up as a species and our understanding of who God is, is increasing and expanding?
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Last night, I forcefully removed my son’s hand from the stove control and he screamed at me. His eyes filled up with tears and he had a little meltdown right there in the middle of the kitchen. Now, he’s usually the sweetest little boy in the world, but when he wants something that he’s unable to have, he gets furious. Sometimes he becomes so angry that he can’t function and we literally have to pick up and remove him from wherever he is and hold him close until he calms down.
I’m not sure what's going on in that little brain of his when these meltdowns happen, but I wonder if his anger isn’t pointed directly at me and his mom. He still knows that we love him, but since we’re keeping him from his desires- we’re villains, thwarting him at every move.
I can only imagine that it’s going to get worse as he gets older.
My experience with my own parents was mixed, too. As a child, I had a terrible temper and I got in trouble for all sorts of things. My mom and dad were often viewed as the enemies, always dishing out punishment, making me eat food I didn’t like, forcing me to go to bed when I didn't want to, and giving me rules and restrictions that a lot of my friends didn’t have.
It wasn’t until I graduated from High School and was out from under my parent’s constant supervision that we became friendly with each other. Gradually, we developed a different sort of relationship and I began to see how their “restrictions” and “punishment” were actually for my own good. Due to their influence in my life, I had a little more discipline over my own actions and was able to make better choices.
I see now that it wasn’t always vengeance or cruelty that drove them to put rules and restrictions in place. It was more often kindness and love. It was merely my own immaturity that made me view them as villians. It was my adolescent and teenage brain that hadn’t grown to the point where I could see the whole picture of what they were trying to accomplish.
And I bet my son is going to have the same feelings about me as he grows up.
In the middle of the kitchen floor, while Ethan was still crying, it suddenly made sense why God seems to be so mean, angry and jealous in some places and so kind, loving and compassionate it others. It’s because the story of humanity is much like the story of a little boy who's growing up. At some points, God gave rules and then gave grace. At different times, He disciplined and befriended.
God is fathering us and just like is for all sons and daughters, His methods don’t always make sense in the moment. There are times when He seems like the villain rather than the protector. There are times when He seems to needlessly keep us from our desires. But as we mature in our ability to know Him and understand this world we live in, we’re able to see more clearly that the whole picture is love- even those rough patches when everthing seems to be out of sync with how we’d expect a loving God to act.
Jeff wrote a better summary of my post yesterday than I could- check out his blog for other good thoughts in a similar vein as my own:
“What a great observation you imply here:
Alien films are really a litmus test for how we answer three questions:
A) What kind of universe do we live in (i.e. Is it basically hostile, basically kind, or basically
B) How should we react and interact with the universe?
C) What if our answer to A) is not in synch with our answer to B)?”
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Day Three: The Man of Steel and The American Way
Does anyone else find it ironic that primary defender of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” is from beyond the stars? Sure, he looks like us, and as Clark Kent he can hide among us as a mousey reporter, but the reality is- Superman is not from ‘round here. He’s an outsider for a distant planet.
He’s an alien. He’s Kal-el. And yet, he’s tasked with defending the American Way?
Isn’t that odd?
Well, let’s think about The American Way for a bit and see if there’s a way to reconcile this. The American Way and the American Dream are traditionally used interchangeably. To some degree, they both mean that no matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ve got a chance to make a difference. You’ve got the same chance as everyone else, to become what you want through your own work, by your own means- no matter who you are or where you’re from.
With this definition in mind, it could be argued that Superman is literally the actualization of the American Way. As an alien, he knows better than anyone what it means to be an outsider, making his way in a world that’s unfamiliar territory. Sure, he’s able to use his innate abilities to become the greatest hero and defender of all time, but that doesn’t subvert the fact that he’s not human.
Interestingly enough, it’s probably the fact that he’s not “one of us” that makes it so meaningful. Had he been the kid down the street- a true all American Boy- it wouldn’t be a story that resonates so strongly with us.
After all, consider that Superman was created in a country of immigrants. Even last year (2008) over a million people were naturalized as U.S. Citizens. In fact, some studies show that immigration is the only thing that is keeping our country’s population from shrinking now that the average U.S. family has decreased to 1.93 children. Immigration is the foundation of our country and the backbone on which we’ve thrived. The one thing that most of us have in common is that our family trees are rooted on some other continent.
We’re all from somewhere else.
Which could be a reason why we don’t even think about Superman as an alien until we’re forced to. He seems like a regular guy who happens to be super powered rather than some humanoid life form from another planet. Sure, some of it is due to the fact that he looks just like us, talks just like us, and has adoptive parents from Kansas. But it’s more than that.
Perhaps he is just like us. After all, we’re all aliens in some respect.
Day Two: Fear and Loathing in South Africa
On Monday, we explored some initial thoughts about why humans feel the need to create something other than us. It could be due to our own need for significance, or perhaps because we need to know whether or not our decisions matter, or possibly it stems from mere loneliness, but no matter what reasoning stands behind it- we all ask that question: “are we alone, or is there someone else out there?”
Alien films, of course are an exploration of this issue and others.
Of course, the answer to what “someone” else is like is up for debate, too. The aliens in ET: The Extraterrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind look and act a whole lot different than the ones in Alien, Independence Day, or the recent District 9.
Of course there are the Predator films which feature aliens who hunt humans for sport. And there’s War of the Worlds and the rest of the alien invader movies that presents grim hostiles from Mars who operate huge tripods and are bent on destroying human life to make room for their own kind. And then of course, there are films like ET where the alien is a sort of cute little brown guy who hangs out with kids.
Something that really stuck out to me about District 9 is that the film is really about apartheid and the monstrosity of humanity’s actions against those we don’t understand. On a lesser level, ET and Flight of the Navigator echo the same meme. They’re both about the fact that man has a need to dissect what we discover in order to control it and understand it.
But no matter what the film is, almost all Alien Films center on fear. Aliens represent something unknown and foreign. They represent something to be afraid of because they’re different, more powerful, problematic, violent, or such a mystery that we feel like we need to shoot first and ask questions later.
But isn’t this pretty much what we do anytime we’re in a new situation or around people that seem different or strange to us. I don’t mean to suggest that we always kill other people or dissect them when they seem different to us- but isn’t there something curious about racism and prejudice? Both of these are prime examples of how we tend to treat other people like something alien. Something different. Something Other. Even the more subtle approaches like writing off another nationality because of a language barrier or mannerisms that don’t line up with social norms are a form of what I’m talking about here.
When humans are confronted with something different than what we’re used to, we automatically assume the worst and look for ways to make ourselves more comfortable. This often means isolating ourselves from those who are different than us or deconstructing and “figuring out” their actions so that we can cut them down to size and make ourselves more powerful.
Alien films are a way for us to key in on some of these issues that we have with other human beings. And if you haven’t taken the time to check out District 9 yet- it’s a perfect film to begin thinking through our actions and how they relate to other people.
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Nathan Key likes to think about faith and philosophy and talk about it with others. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. He doesn't always refer to himself in the third person.