Stop Hating on Worship

Theologically-minded people get cynical.

This is to our shame.

One of the worst places that this cynicism shows up is in corporate worship as we sing songs to God. I know because I experience this personally on a weekly basis. I get critical about what we sing, and I hear my friends talk about it, too.

But really, we need to stop.

Yes, there are reasons to dislike certain worship songs.

Yes, it is true that many songs are less than 100% theologically precise.

Yes, some songs even use apparently incorrect theology.

Despite all this, rarely does a song pop up with is legitimately dangerous or so wrong that it cannot be sung by a godly heart. The songs which make rounds in our average evangelical Protestant churches may not always be of the highest musical and theological quality, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to cringe at lyrics when we could be worshipping the Almighty God.

And honestly, I’m rarely convinced that the problems identified with certain songs actually have to be problems. More often than not, we let our idiosyncrasies distort the reality. We’re so smug and proud of our theological purity that we are immediately suspicious of wording that we might not have chosen, even if the actual meaning is perfectly innocuous. We would be better off suspending our judgment and trying to figure out if a line is really flirting with heresy or if maybe we’re reading it wrong.

Take a couple of examples.

In “Holy Spirit” by Kari Jobe, I’ve heard people take issue with the line, “Holy Spirit, You are welcome here.” The usual response is, “Who do we think we are to tell the Holy Spirit where He is welcome? He can come and go wherever He wants!” But this is a silly objection. No one singing this line means to say, “Alright, Holy Spirit, in my personal sovereignty I give You, my humble Servant, permission to enter this room.” The real meaning is clear to anyone who is willing to give the benefit of the doubt: we are eager and receptive to the work of the Holy Spirit. We are praying for Him to act, saying that we are willing to listen and not resist.

“Good, Good Father” also gets a lot of flack, not just among theological types but even many others. I’ve seen some serious hate directed its way, such as here and here. And I’ll admit quickly that it’s a bit silly, certainly not quality music, especially in the first verse. But even so, I think the criticisms are mostly off-base. People complain about “You tell me that You’re pleased” as though the Father does not declare us pleasing to Him in the Son. One Calvinist complained about “I’m loved by You” as though Christians should remain skeptical about God’s love for them while worshipping Him. They hate on the mindless repetition, vague sentimentality, and lack of any distinctively Christian language. But really, really, what can you actually find in this song that explicitly contradicts Scripture and would be sung by your average worshipper in a way that turns them away from their heavenly Father? I find no such thing.

I won’t bother with any more examples for now. The point is clear enough. We need to quit with the snobbery, the arrogance, the hyper-particularity that distract our minds from the divine glory. Every once in a while we might stumble upon a song that is legitimately unacceptable, but most of the time we’re being picky, failing to apply the benefit of the doubt, and asserting our superiority over people who write and sing these songs. That’s not worship. So let’s leave this all behind and just focus on God. (And if the lyrics trip you up, be creative. I’m sure you can find an interpretative way to sing them with a meaning that fits your theology, unless your theology is a jerk.)

More Books Worth Reading

Quite a while ago, I mentioned a few books I thought might be good to share. If you missed that, you really should go back and read the suggestions. But now, over two years and many books later, I have some more to offer. The target audiences for these books might be somewhat diverse, so just go with it until you see something you like. So here’s what I got:

Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ

By Thomas F. Torrance
Amazon link
My rating: 4.5/5

T. F. Torrance, once a student of Karl Barth, was a minister in the Church of Scotland for many years, and he became an excellent theologian. After his death, several of his lectures were collected and published in two major volumes which represent the essence of his theology. They are Incarnation and Atonement, which respectively cover Christ’s person and His work. I’ve unfortunately not been able to read Incarnation yet, but Atonement is absolutely excellent. It is a thoroughly Biblical, creatively theological, and Christ-centered look at the what Jesus did for us in His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and even Pentecost! He connects this to absolutely every area of theology, from the Trinity to the Church to millennial views. It is not the easiest read you would ever try, but it is very worth it. Here’s a quote:

Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgement: on the contrary he continued it, and as we have seen he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgement, but in Jesus that is subsidiary to—and only arises out of—the gospel of grace and vicarious suffering and atonement. In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgement on evil simply by smiting violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its indelible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.

The Mediation of Christ

By Thomas F. Torrance
Amazon link
My rating: 4/5

I apologize in advance for loading this list with two books by the same author so quickly, but putting the first one on here just reminded me of how good this one is. The Mediation of Christ is a somewhat earlier and much shorter work about the role of Jesus as the one Mediator between God and man and the role of Israel in mediating Jesus to the world. Both of these themes are very well discussed, and this book makes a helpful introduction to Torrance’s theology. It is not much of an easier read than Atonement, but as I mentioned it is nowhere near as long. If you do read this book, though, you will have a major head start in understanding Atonement. An epic quote:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

Simply Jesus

By N. T. Wright
Amazon link
My rating: 4/5

N. T. Wright is a British historian and theologian, formerly a bishop in the Church of England. He is most well-known for his work on the historical Jesus and the Resurrection. Yet, having been a bishop for many years, he is also quite interested in getting across his thoughts to laypeople, which is basically the theme of Simply Jesus, a simple introduction to Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry. While he calls his vision “new,” this should not be taken as implying anything liberal or radical, but merely corrective against mistakes that have been made in Christian history. (And, to be honest, it’s not as new as he seems to imagine it is.) But it’s a great book, giving helpful perspective when reading the Gospels and understanding the theme of the kingdom of God. This is the easiest read of the bunch so far.

Here, then, is the message of Easter, or at least the beginning of that message. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean, “It’s all right. We’re going to heaven now.” No, the life of heaven has been born on this earth. It doesn’t mean, “So there is a life after death.” Well, there is, but Easter says much, much more than that. It speaks of a life that is neither ghostly nor unreal, but solid and definite and practical. The Easter stories come at the end of the four gospels, but they are not about an “end.” They are about a beginning. The beginning of God’s new world. The beginning of the kingdom. God is now in charge, on earth as in heaven. And God’s “being-in-charge” is focused on Jesus himself being king and Lord. The title on the cross was true after all. The resurrection proves it.

Surprised by Hope

By N. T. Wright
Amazon link
My rating: 5/5

Okay, I’ll do one more author duplicate here. This is my favorite N. T. Wright book, and it is all about heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the Church, as its subtitle says. It, in a plain and readable style, argues vehemently against the quasi-gnostic views of life after death so popular in modern Christianity, instead emphasizing the reality of the coming physical new creation. Surprised by Hope is thoroughly Scriptural, offering a creative and exciting vision of what God has in store for us in the future, both life after death and, as Wright says, “life after life after death.” I don’t think any better work on this topic, at least at an ordinary reading level, exists. I’ll go straight to the quote:

I am putting up a signpost, not offering a photograph of what we will find once we get to where the signpost is pointing. I don’t know what musical instruments we shall have to play Bach in God’s new world, though I’m sure Bach’s music will be there. I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that there will be in God’s recreated world, though I do remember Martin Luther’s words about the proper reaction to knowing the kingdom was coming the next day being to go out and plant a tree. I do not know how the painting an artist paints today in prayer and wisdom will find a place in God’s new world. I don’t know how our work for justice for the poor, for remission of global debts, will reappear in that new world. But I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and I know that he calls his followers to live in him and by the power of his Spirit and so to be new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel

By Russel Moore
Amazon link
Rating: 4.5/5

Finally, we have something written by a Baptist, and this is the best Baptist reading I’ve ever found. In Onward Russel Moore examines how the American church is to move forward in light of everything that has happened to our culture (recently including Obergefell and #MakeAmericaGreatAgain). He covers the theology of the Church and its witness along with a host of issues related to our cultural warfare, and he urges us to embrace the “freakishness” of the Gospel. He believes and argues from Scripture and experience that the message and mission of the Church are necessarily radically different from and contradictory to all world systems and cultures, including both our present culture and the America of 60 years ago. He offers a devastating critique of the cultural Christianity we are losing, cheering its death and urging us to move on towards a new way of witness.

The problem was that…Christian values were always more popular in American culture than the Christian gospel. That’s why one could speak of “God and country” with great reception in almost any era of the nation’s history but would create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned ‘Christ and him crucified.’ God was always welcome in American culture. He was, after all, the Deity whose job it was to bless America. The God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ, however, was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to ‘Amen’ in a prayer at the Rotary Club.

Very Short Thoughts on the Tower of Babel

These are just the quick notes I took on the Tower of Babel incident while reading through Genesis 10-11 this morning.

  • The motivation for the tower of Babel is interesting. The one people wanted to unite in glory in resistance to God’s intention to bless the earth through their filling and diversification. It appears there was some clear awareness on their part that they were resisting this call.
  • God’s motivation is just as peculiar, if not more so. On one hand, at a prima facie level it appears that God feels threatened by humanity’s united power and wishes to stop them from what powerful things they could accomplish as one people. Yet this reading seems problematic, theology proper aside. It does not take into account what the people said in the previous verse, nor is it coherent. Why would a God who already performed creation and was able to confuse human languages feel threatened by mere mortals? I suspect God was more concerned with their particular plans to build a single metropolitan and continue resisting the call to spread out and diversify. As long as they had one language, nothing would be able to convince them to give up on this project and separate.
  • If we take Babel as mostly the story of God’s plans for blessing and humanity’s ongoing resistance (which would fit well into the Pentateuch as a whole), then there is clear application. God often calls us to do hard and uncomfortable things for our own good; indeed, this is mostly all He says to us! He may ask us to break certain cherished ties and go places, just as He will do to Abram in the next chapter. Yet the plan is always for the consummation and redemption of creation, and so every step is ultimately designed to bless us. The question on our part is if we will have the faith to simply do what He calls us to do, trusting that He actually does have our best interests at heart.

Narnia and the Cross (An Essay for British Lit)

This is an essay that I wrote for my British literature class last semester. I figure someone might find it interesting. Or a good laugh. Either way.

I Lay Down My Life for Edmund: Atonement Theology in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

“When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward” (Lewis, ch. 15). With this sentence, every key element to C. S. Lewis’ atonement theology, as portrayed in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is laid bare. Although sometimes derided for theological reasons, Aslan’s sacrifice for Edmund is a rich and beautiful scene which lends much power to the book as a whole. Moreover, while this narrative would not fit into anyone’s systematic theology, there are several themes present in Lewis’ atonement story which both shed light on Lewis’ thought in general and might provide some helpful corrective foci for broader evangelical understanding. In particular, the sacrifice of Aslan for Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe brings together the essential mysterious, personal, and redemptive-historical dimensions of the atonement in a typology that impresses itself upon the heart in a way few stories can do. Taking note of these themes will not only enable the reader to better appreciate what Aslan did, but what Jesus did to which Lewis intended Aslan’s sacrifice to point.

Before looking at the actual key elements of this Narnian atonement, though, some analysis of what took place in the novel and how Lewis meant these events to be interpreted is probably in order. Anna Blanch in her article “A Hermeneutical Understanding of The Chronicles of Narnia” makes the case that allegory or metaphor is not the right way to understand the Narnia books and events, but rather that typology was Lewis’ intent. The differences are subtle, but the main point is to let the story point somewhere as a story, rather than each element in the story having a specific and consistent symbolic meaning. This was, she claims, how Lewis saw the dying-and-rising god myths leading up to Christ, as “types” that ultimately pointed to Christ the “True Myth.” With this in mind, the basic story is straightforward. After entering Narnia, Edmund ends up giving his allegiance to the White Witch. Eventually, because of his family and Aslan’s efforts, he returns to them and betrays her, which gives her a claim on his life based on “deep magic from the dawn of time.” Yet Aslan convenes privately with the Witch and offers his life in exchange for Edmund’s. The Witch kills him on the Stone Table, but the next day he returns and liberates her prisoners (whom she had turned to stone). Finally, Aslan and his freed creatures battle the Witch and her forces, eventually winning as Aslan kills the Witch. The climax to all of this is clearly Aslan’s death and resurrection, and the function of this event as a type of atonement provides many valuable insights, beginning with its mysterious nature.

Evident first in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the controlling fact of the atonement for Lewis is mystery. Aslan’s death and resurrection, just as Christ’s, does not save in any easily schematized way. Indeed, before his conversion the mechanism of the atonement was a major problem for him, the “how” question leading him away from accepting the reality. In the end as a Christian, mostly due to the influence of J. R. R. Tolkien and another friend showing him the significance of “true myth” to his atonement approach, “Lewis remained reluctant to assume full working knowledge of the atonement, which he saw as wholly mysterious” (Vanderhorst 29). In Narnia, this reality comes across in Aslan’s cryptic and fundamentally magical explanation of why he was alive again after dying in Edmund’s stead:

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (Lewis, ch. 15)

A magic deeper than “Deep Magic” is the clearest possible sign that Lewis is signaling away from the “how” instead to focus on the “what.” This also accords with what Lewis states about the atonement in Mere Christianity, namely that, just as one does not need to understand nutritional theory to be nourished by a meal, one needs no understanding of atonement theory to be saved by Christ’s work (55). Surely this is the case for Aslan and Edmund, since no one but Aslan himself understood anything about this deeper magic from before the dawn of time. This fixation on mystery, on an unexpected and inexplicable appearance of grace in self-sacrifice, makes for a brilliant story, and evangelicals would do well to learn from Aslan than the atonement must retain its essentially inscrutable character.

The second essential element to the atonement captured in the Narnia story is personalism, i.e. the framing of the atonement as primarily a reality involving real and particular people, as opposed to abstract individuals or groups. While many evangelical presentations of the atonement take a personal shape (“Jesus died for you because of how much He loves you!”), few evangelical articulations do. The focus is usually on a financial or legal metaphor, which, as useful as such may be, cannot be truly personal. Yet Aslan’s sacrifice is deeply personal, as he steps up specifically to save Edmund by dying in his place. There is no abstract or behind-the-scenes soteriological rationale given. Edmund was going to be killed, so Aslan died in his stead. This was a personal sacrifice, which could not easily be separated meaningfully from the people intimately involved. Again, this theme could well be integrated not only into evangelical Gospel presentations, but into proper theological accounts of the atonement. For indeed, Paul seems to recognize precisely this personal aspect of the atonement when he says that Christ “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Holman Christian Standard Bible, Gal. 2:20), just as Aslan loved Edmund and gave himself for Edmund.

The final theme in the Narnian atonement which has probably been mostly ignored in favor of other questions (such the resemblance to ransom theory) is the redemptive-historical function of Aslan’s death. While, as just mentioned, Aslan’s sacrifice was intensely personal, benefitting no more than Edmund directly, or perhaps the whole Pevensie family, Aslan’s death quickly leads to Narnia’s salvation. After his resurrection, Aslan is free to roam and work unhindered by the Witch, since she assumes he is dead. He can go to her castle and breathe new life on all of the creatures which have been turned to stone, and lead a mighty army back to defeat her. This is not the result of any arbitrary or abstract atonement concept, but rather the historical causal result of the atonement for Aslan’s followers. More than the other points, this redemptive-historical element has often been forgotten altogether in Christian atonement theology. Many atonement accounts treat Christ’s work as something which did or could have functioned out of context, by any death under any circumstances, since only an artificial and metaphysical role is involved. Yet, as with Aslan, Christ’s death paved the way for the survival of the people of God. By establishing the new pattern of suffering unto death without violence, and the advance guarantee of personal resurrection, faithful Jews who followed Him were able to survive the impending doom of Jerusalem and the Temple not just physically, but also religiously, as they had moved on to a new Way. Moreover, the rejection of Christ by the Jews historically pushed the gate open to new circumstances in which Gentiles could enter the people of God as Gentiles. In both the case of Aslan’s ransom and Jesus’ crucifixion, there is an irreducible historical core that grounds the benefits of atonement in actual, causal effect. This entire working is mostly forgotten in evangelical theology, but like these other themes might find recovery when the Christian imagination takes a romp through Narnia.

In the final picture, C. S. Lewis portrays a rich and varied view of the atonement in his typological treatment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Not easily identifiable too closely with any one theory, Lewis held open the mystery that the blood on the altar works because grace has provided it (Lev. 17:11). He painted a profoundly personal picture, a type which reveals the love of God in Christ for each person as a person, and quite significantly, perhaps without even realizing he did so, Lewis presented a clear analogy for the redemptive-historical function of atonement. These three elements, even aside from the more obvious and often analyzed themes of substitution and ransom, provide a helpful corrective to the lack evident in many atonement accounts of present-day evangelical theologians. All would do well to drink from this Narnian well, and to find in Aslan a beautiful and ultimately worship-inducing pointer to Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

Blanch, Anna. “A Hermeneutical Understanding of The Chronicles of Narnia.” Bible Society Australia, 2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

Holy Bible: The Old & New Testaments: Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible, 2011. Electronic.

Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia II: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Vol. 56. 2013. GoodBook Classics. Electronic.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.

Vanderhorst, Ariel James. “Mere Atonement.” Touchstone: A Journal Of Mere Christianity 22.3 (2009): 27-31. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

You Should Really All Know About Lectio Divina

I just got through the Spiritual Formation 101 course at the Baptist College of Florida. It was a good and useful course, which has, in combination with a few other factors, actually done wonders for my devotional life and prayer life. I was, however, disappointed that in all of our discussions on prayer, meditation, and Scripture reading the topic of lectio divina never came up. This traditional practice has lots of a long history in Christian devotion and, from my initial experiences with it, is quite beneficial. Yet for some reason in the world I’ve grown up in (evangelical Protestant/Baptist) I’ve never heard it mentioned.

So what is lectio divina? It is a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading,” and it refers to a specific practice combining Scripture reading, prayer, and meditation. Its origins can be traced back as far as Origen (3rd century), but it its current form it goes back to medieval monasteries, where it was finally put into four steps. The goal of lectio divina is to commune with God personally while/by reading Scripture. My explanations will be mostly pointless without giving the details, so I’ll just jump into the four steps:

  1. Read — The first step of lectio divina is to read Scripture. Usually, you will not want a very long passage for this. Generally a verse or two will be plenty, though of course you are not limited and depending on how long you want to spend and how much focus you have you might read much more. A great longer text might be psalm, for example. I like to pick out a verse or two that particularly strikes me from whatever large reading I am doing at the time.
    Anyway, once you’ve chosen your text you read it slowly and carefully, focusing on it as exclusively as you can. You will probably want to read it multiple times, traditionally four. Pay close attention to words and phrases that stick out to you, and try different emphases each time you read it.
  2. Meditate — The next step is to meditate on what you’ve read. This is not a time for technical analysis or study, but more personal reflection with Christ as the central concern. You want to remove anything but the text and how it relates to Jesus from your mind, and focus on that alone. What does God want this word to show you about His only begotten Word through His Spirit? Stop and reflect on all of this for a few moments, minutes, or I suppose even hours if you’re hardcore enough. Don’t stop the answer to that question, but instead if an answer comes to mind focus on the reality in Christ. Does this text reveal that Christ brings peace for weary sinners? Then rest in His peace during this time.
  3. Pray — Having reflected on the text and listened to God in Christ through the Spirit, you then respond to Him in prayer. Whatever you have gathered from your time of meditation, respond to God in an appropriate way. Did His glory impress itself on you? Then respond, “Glory to You, God!” Was your sin exposed to you? Repent and ask for forgiveness. Whatever you have heard in reading God’s word and meditating on it, pray to the Author about it.
  4. Contemplate — Finally, the last step in lectio divina is to stop and be silent. You’ve read, meditated, and prayed. By this point you should just rest and listen. Do not try to move on yet, but rather spend a few moments, as it were, resting in the arms of God. Anything God has said, let it sink in further. Whatever you have said back to Him, let it stand unadulterated and unqualified for a moment. Just be silent, and sit with Your Father.

If the appeal and potential benefits of this practice are not obvious to you, then I don’t really know what to tell you. This is, as I mentioned, a traditional part of Christian devotion, which is quite intimate and fruitful. If you want to try something new, which is nonetheless ancient, in your walk with God, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I pray someone will benefit from it.

One of the Few Things That Can Make Me Angry

I am not an angry person. For the most part, I just deal with people and don’t worry about their nonsense, shenanigans, rudeness, or offenses. When I do think about these things, it’s usually analytically, thinking about the wider patterns in society of which they are a part, and about any theological issues involved. I already digress, though, so back to my point. I don’t generally get angry, and it usually takes some repeated problems to make it happen. Most issues don’t spark any fire any me.

There are a few things, of course, that do. Talking about abortion for more than 5 minutes. Bullies. A handful of politicians. But none of those are the subject of this post. Instead, this post is about what angers me if I think about it for too long: nonchalant money wasting.

What specifically do I mean? I work at a Papa John’s. I see almost every day people spend $20-40 on pizza and cookies. Likewise, I walk into stores and see $1000 TVs that people actually buy. On Black Friday, so many people practically turn into a raging mob trying to throw their money at companies for things that usually aren’t important. College kids buy Starbucks several times a week, or even daily. Well off couples plunk down hundreds of thousands for houses much larger, fancier, and prepared than they actually need. Half of our society, if not much more than that, revolves around buying and selling, and when your society is the size of ours, that guarantees most of the business being done isn’t essential to life and well-being.

So, so much of this money is just wasted. Hundreds of millions of dollars essentially go down the toilet, serving no purpose but to give us some momentary pleasure, distracting entertainment, or a few extra moments of convenience. I could multiply examples, and in fact a part of me is simply dying to do so just to illustrate the severity of the problem and get out some of the frustration that builds even as I think about this subject to write on it. But stop and think for yourself: how much money do you spend in your average week, even average day, that you could quite easily get by without spending? What about the expenses that you could get by without just by putting in a little extra effort?

I know I do this. I try to avoid it, but I do not always do so, and plenty of times if I step back and think too hard about it I get frustrated. But why? Why does this all so rile me? Why does all of this make me so angry?

The reason, which may be obvious to some of you, for my ire is the African child with a stomach bloated from malnutrition and starvation, the Afghan mother struggling to find some kind of health care for her baby, and the old redneck lady who can’t afford to keep electricity hooked up in her trailer. People like these and those in many other situations around the world are suffering in extreme poverty (or at least serious relative poverty for their society), and try as they might they can’t do anything about it. Most of them aren’t just a little bit poor, either. According to Compassion International:

Globally, 1.2 billion people (22 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day. Increasing the income poverty line to $2.50 a day raises the global income poverty rate to about 50 percent, or 2.7 billion people.

This means that for every one of us who can afford to spend $7 for lunch at Chick-fil-A almost whenever we want, there is someone else out there who would have to go without any other food for at least 2 or 3 days to afford that opportunity. 

In the face of such intense and rampant poverty and suffering, the waste I see every day becomes absolutely disgusting. The constant churning of spending more and more money on frivolous or disposable things by whim appears to be pure evil, the evil of a world system under the sway of the evil one. Fancy new gadgets, savory steak dinners, and luxurious vacations are shoved into our faces daily by advertisers desperate for our money, money which could be better spent for the sake of mercy on the poor. And we take the bait! We buy into the system and throw away our money together with our souls for the sake of temporary pleasures, ignoring the billions of people who could never afford our 40-inch TVs or 6-inch iPhones in a hundred years.

Naturally, I’m not saying that we can never spend any money beyond what we absolutely have to have. Moderation is always allowed. But we don’t usually try or think about moderating our spending in order to give. In the US, concern for extreme poverty is extremely low1, and giving is pathetic2. That is what makes me angry. The lack of care, and the lack of action proving care, is what frustrates me.

So let’s fix it. Give. Go. Help. Pray. Send. And waste less money on the stupidities of American consumerism when you can be giving it to those who need it to survive.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need — how can God’s love reside in him?

1 John 3:17

Personal Notes on 1 John

Notes on 1 John

My devotional reading has recently taken me through 1 John. I found some things in the book particularly edifying and decided the thoughts they inspired might be worth sharing. So here are my lightly edited notes straight from my journal. (After this, you should totally reread 1 John if you haven’t done it in a while, because it really is a great little book.)

1 John 1

  • Summary: John has seen and knows intimately the light that is Jesus Christ, and wishes to make Him further known to his audience, that they all together may walk as one in the light with Christ, cleansed of sin and united in joy.
  • Details
    • First off, John does not separate at all between the historical and the theological Jesus. As far as John is concerned, the Jesus he touched and heard and saw in the flesh was indeed even in the flesh the Word of life, the eternal life and Son of God, by whom man has fellowship with the Father.
    • Everything about eternal life for John is oriented around Christ. He is eternal life. He is the Word of life. Eternal life comes through faith in Him. Knowing Christ is the essence of eternal life. Jesus Himself is the way, the truth, and the life. Any conception of eternal life that is not ultimately part of our conception of Jesus is broken.
    • God is light, as is Jesus, and in Him is no darkness. Therefore if we walk in Him, in His light, our sin is exposed and burned up by His radiance. Yet this painful process leads some to hide from God’s light, and they deceive themselves if they say they walk with God. Only if one is in darkness can his sin be hidden, even from himself, and thus those who claim to lack sin are indeed in darkness, for the light exposes more and more sins. Yet only this exposure can cleanse sin, and in fact this paradox is precisely the paradox of justification by faith: our only hope to be made right with God in Christ is to own up to how badly we are wrong with God in ourselves.

1 John 2:1-27

  • Summary: The true believers, unlike the heretics, keep God’s commands and love each other, even in the midst of trouble, because they know the Father and have victory in Him. The ungodly world is passing away, and so we must cling to Christ rather than any of this age, in spite of all the false teachers set to lead us astray, who would sever us from Christ by denying Him.
  • Details
    • The true Church can be known by its fruit, to at least a degree. We follow God’s commands, rather than living unlike Christ.
    • In the midst of controversy, love is still essential, and perhaps more essential than usual, for the Church.
    • The world under the evil one is conquered and passing away. All of its structures and delights are fading, so we best not get caught in them, a trap the world-denying Gnostics could easily and ironically fall into.
    • The spirit of the antichrist is alive and well, energizing false teachers, but true believers remain faithful in spite of them. God teaches His Church the truth.

1 John 2:28-3:24

  • Summary: In Christ we are righteous children of God, though the true fullness of this is yet invisible as we wait for Him to be revealed, since our life is hidden in Him. Yet in present, we see the change brought about by this new life in righteous living and active love, for those who lack such things but instead sin and hate are of the Devil.
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    • Can Bobby Grow’s claim that there is no warrant for a spiritual test here be completely supported? I’m not sure about that. Nonetheless, I do get a generally corporate and “in Christ”-ian feel from this passage, so certainly the focus is shifted away from individual assurance to identifying the true Body of Christ against the false.
    • Christ’s life is a life of radically self-giving love, and of righteous living, for this is exactly what He did from birth to the Cross. That life is also the life into which we have been born again as His people.
    • Our true nature is mostly invisible, even to ourselves, in this time-between-the-times, for it is the nature of Christ, who is hidden from our sight until His return. Thus we still sin and see ourselves in sinful terms, despite our true nature as children of God. Yet we are children of God, who do not sin but rather love.
    • Love is only love when it is real and active. That is the kind of love Christ showed for us, which even animated His Passion.
    • I should make every effort to abide in Christ, which practically means in specific devotion, worship, and Church life, so that I may share in the revelation of His life when He returns. If I want the good resurrection, I must be found in Him. If I am to be found in Him, I must stay connected to Him by the means He has provided.
    • I should always have hope even in the midst of my deepest sinfulness, because what I truly am is God’s child, and something too wonderful to know yet, hidden in Christ. No matter what I see in myself now, the new reality is there and will be revealed.

1 John 4

  • Summary: We who believe in Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh are from God, just as Christ and therefore this doctrine are from God, and those who reject this are of the spirit of the antichrist. That spirit works not love, but deception. True love is bound up with God’s self-revelation of His love in giving His only Son for us, so to reject the identity of the Son is to reject love, and thus the God who is Himself love.
  • Details
    • The spirit of the antichrist has been in the world for at least these past 2000 years, always trying to deceive and draw people away from Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh. He still does this today, but he is restrained by the overcoming power of God, Father, Son, and Spirit.
    • Those who have been born again believe in Christ. Period. Those who do not listen to the truth of Christ are of the antichrist, or deceived by him.
    • Love is bound up with this doctrine, and remains our first and foremost imperative. The God who has revealed Himself as love in Christ’s flesh has given us new life out of love, and therefore our life now ought to be shaped and driven by His love.
    • “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God — God remains in him and he in God.” This is the great ecumenical truth. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” is the binding prayer behind all true Christianity.
    • Fear makes no sense in this context of love, trembling over judgment. If we are in Christ by faith, and we share in His love, by what means will we not be freed from condemnation by that love?

1 John 5

  • Summary: All of us who believe in Jesus as Christ are God’s children, and so most rightly love each other and obey God’s commandments, for by faith in Christ we are able to overcome the sinful world. We ought to believe this, because God has testified about His Son in His baptism and crucifixion, and by believing this we have life in Christ. If we have life in Christ, our prayers are powerful and unhindered, and will deliver those in sin. Yet Christ does protect us from sin as children of God, unlike the evil world under Satan’s power. Therefore let us be children of God, loving each other, believing in Christ, and keeping away from idols.
  • Details
    • Faith and love are inseparable in Christ, and thus all who truly believe in Christ also truly love Him, the Father, and everyone else who is in Christ. There is a natural communion of love and truth in God’s new household.
    • Obedience also naturally belongs in this overall category of faith and love. By faith, we obey God, in particular His command to love, and as these effects work themselves out we overcome the sinful and hostile world around us.
    • God Himself testifies that Jesus is the Son of God in whom we have eternal life. Therefore all are bound to believe it. Those who deny it lie.
    • Baptism and crucifixion were the most public acts of Jesus’ life. Of course they were God’s testimony. And yet it is a counterintuitive testimony, indeed, for in both Jesus was treated as a sinner. He became sin for us, and precisely doing this is an act of the Son of God.
    • Eternal life is simply life in Christ. This says nothing, to be honest, about whether it can be lost, for it is not clear from this passage whether one can leave Christ.
    • God answers our prayers which accord with the love, faith, and obedience which ought to characterize life in Christ. He may even rescue a dying soul by such prayers.
    • Christ protects us from sin, making a sharp divide between us, born of God and knitted together in faith and love, and the evil world, which includes idolaters who deny that Jesus is the Christ in the flesh.