Friday, February 29, 2008

Monkey on my back; devil on my shoulder

In The Great Divorce, one character is portrayed as being kept from heaven by his own bitterness. A woman sent to him almost convinces him to release his petty pride, to forget the slights and arrows of life, so that he can embrace peace and redemption. But every time he almost allows himself to be won over by this woman, this begrudging, resentful voice always calls him back to the darkness.

Unfortunately, I find that I identify too much with this angry character. A spirit of criticism and pride linger around me like a cloud of pollution. God’s grace beckons me to be graceful, and sometimes my better angels win the day (and I trust that ultimately they will fully have the victory); but so often I find this darker, angry voice persuades me and coaxes me instead. I’m drawn into criticizing and attacking, biting and cutting. My life brings me face-to-face with this regularly. My job is practically to be critical and argumentative. My vanity suggests to me that this is an important part of who I am. Even blogging presents a constant temptation to air my grievances.

Encountering God is my only hope. Often in prayer, I have this imagery of my heart being like a tomb, full of darkness and the stench of death, and then God opens the door and lets the fresh wind of his Spirit and the cleansing light of His holiness purify the crypt. Meeting God also humbles me, because in His presence, I can see my critical nature is damnable filth at best, both compared to God’s immeasurably superior judgment as well as the grace by which He has made my own failures null and void, replacing them with his own tender righteousness.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

I’ve heard this verse described two ways: 1) Jesus’ feeling of abandonment at his lowest point in perhaps his entire existence; 2) God had in fact “turned his back” on Jesus, because at that moment Jesus had “become sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and was suffering the punishment for human beings’ sin---separation from God---which many Christians consider to be the defining aspect of Hell.

It seems that both of these are right, the first dealing more with Jesus’ human experience, the second dealing with the sotereological (theological study of salvation) nature of Jesus’ being on the cross, which, in fact, probably caused Jesus far more profound suffering than the already cruel, physical being nailed to a cross.

As for the first, Jesus’ example constantly dignifies humanity. In response to the atrocity of His being nailed to the cross, Jesus is not a stoic, trying to distance himself from suffering. He cries out in anguish at what is happening to Him. In this, God dignifies human suffering and outcry as an appropriate response to evil in the world.

As for the second aspect, Jesus’ separation from God, it makes me think of the hymn’s chorus “Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus.” It’s an unsearchable horror to consider separation from God, and when this happened to Jesus, the closest analogy I can think of is that it must have been to Him like losing his mind or soul. I’m speaking loosely, of course, but can you imagine that, God losing his soul? For anyone who has ever felt their soul in peril, there is nothing more terrifying. To consider that the Son of God underwent this is beyond comprehension, except to know it must have been the ultimate pain, terror, and horror. But, He did it, endured it, and He did so because of His love for us. He volunteered for this superlative pain so that we wouldn’t have to experience the same, because He knew that in his divinity, He could pay the penalty, endure God’s wrath, and that we could not. He did this for love for you and for me.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I just noticed that the Lord’s prayer has only two commands. Implicitly, we’re commanded to pray it. Explicitly, it tells us to forgive our “debtors” or “those who have trespassed against us.” The rest of the prayer mostly asks God to do things.

It seems to me more and more that the Christian faith is by-and-large about what God does and only minimally about what we do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blogging Lent

Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27).

This saying of Jesus from the cross seems to emphasize his humanity, which also has the effect of validating our own.

On the brink of death, Jesus’ thought turn to who will care for his mother. He shows Himself to be a good son, and for a good son this is a natural concern. It’s interesting to compare this statement with another thing He said: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his … mother … he cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:26. Hopefully the juxtaposition of these two verses shows conclusively that Jesus was prone to using hyperbolic figures of speech and didn’t hate his mother, and doesn’t expect others to hate theirs either.

Further, Jesus chose a specific person to care for her. This shows that Jesus and John possessed a unique relationship, as all humans possess unique relationships. In other words, it’s okay that you get along with one person particularly well, or select one person for a special job over another. Sometimes I think we take more abstract sayings of Jesus and think we need to overcome our humanity to become godly. In some cases this is obviously true, but Jesus’ caring for his mother on the cross and asking John to take care of her also shows God dignifying much of basic human experience.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blogging Lent:

“Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Right now I’m struck by how resistant I am to thinking much about paradise. It seems so uncouth and fundamentalist.

But, it occurs to me I should start thinking more about paradise and being happy about it. Really happy about it. I realize I maintain a measured tone and aloof attitude about paradise because I don’t want to seem nutty over this pie in the sky (I mean, if you think what Obama is promising sounds unrealistic, let me tell you about Jesus promises), and I don’t want to scare off the skeptics. Maybe I’m not even that concerned about scaring off the skeptics as I am having them think I’m a nutty fundamentalist.

But, in reality, I don’t think I’m going to win them to the truth by acting like I don’t believe in paradise. Mostly, this won’t win them; but even if it did, it wouldn’t be to the truth. Because Jesus’ truth involves being with him in paradise.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blogging Lent

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

1. I’ve always asked “too many” questions. This verse was the source of my earliest question I can remember. I was six years old, attending a Presbyterian church with my mom. Presbyterians say that Christ “descended into hell for three days,” so I asked the pastor “then, how could Jesus tell the thief that he would see him that day in paradise.” The pastor’s answer was something like “kids ask the best questions!”

I still don’t know the answer to this question, but I’m not committed to the notion of Jesus going to Hades.

2. This word “paradise” makes me feel both joyful and foolish. Joyful because this world hurts, and I'd like to go somewhere that doesn't. Foolish because it must be this kind of talk that led Karl Marx to declare that religion was the opiate of the masses. And yet it does speak to one of the greatest human longings, to be free from this world and its cruel constraints. I guess I ask, “so what’s the evidence that this paradise exists?” For me, the primary evidence is Jesus, both in the plausibility (particularly versus any other explanation of His life) of the Gospel accounts of his life, death, and resurrection being true, as well as my personal experience with Him in my life. He’s with me; I interact with Him; I would be lying if I said otherwise.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Soliciting prayers...

If you'd be willing to offer up a prayer for me, I'm asking God to make me an evangelist. Not a stadium tour type, just someone who consistently goes to people and makes the plea of the Gospel. I've never done this well, and I feel a deep internal blockage to speaking up.

The catalyst for this prayer was last night at the youth group I volunteer at, we were informed one of the girl's father has an untreatable form of cancer. Further, none of the girl's family, apparently, knows Christ. We all prayed ... but I've prayed for the sick before, which is fine ... but I wondered, 'why doesn't someone stand up and say, let's go visit this guy and tell him about the Gospel?' No one did, and I'm praying that God would make me into someone who would do that.

I don't believe people are primarily responsible--at all-- for bringing about in others faith in Christ. But, I do know that Paul said "How will they hear the Gospel if no one tells them?" Currently, my conscience rests very uneasily on my record of having not been someone who makes a real effort to tell people the Gospel.

So, your prayers are appreciated. And discussion of this topic is welcome too.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Father forgive them...

Sometimes we wonder if we've finally sinned in such a way that God is just done with us, won't love us the same, won't bless us the same, won't be in relationship with us the same way ever again.

But it's hard to imagine that you could do anything worse than nailing Jesus to the Cross. And yet when that happened to Him, His heart was set on forgiveness of those committing the sin.

His lovingkindness endures forever; praise Him.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Blogging Lent

I’m going to be joining some friends in a blogging project for Lent. (see and The goal is to reflect on the words Jesus said from the Cross. This week’s saying is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

1. This saying is so right…until I try it myself. When someone wrongs me, my first thought is usually to curse them. I’ve noticed that virtue always looks great on others, but for some reason we don’t like to wear it ourselves. I think, here, about the beauty of Jesus praying this prayer for his persecutors.

2. I always wonder whether this prayer actually worked. Does praying for God to forgive someone have any power to bring God’s forgiveness about?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Amazing to see a NY Times columnist praising Evangelicals: