Sunday, March 30, 2008

Not My Words

this blog has been dormant for over 9 months, during which time i could have given birth to a healthy baby boy.

instead, i've given birth to a new blog. Since it takes me awhile to think out my thoughts and write a post (often hours) I decided to type quotes from what i'm reading and collect them in one place so i can access them later. you're free to take a look as well.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Freedom and Discipline

(All passages in italics are taken from the first chapter of Erwin McManus’ Uprising)

Several years ago I was mesmerized by the amazing talent of a classical pianist named Chris Crossan. After playing a wide spectrum of music, spanning from Beethoven to Bach to the Beatles, he invited an admiring student to come up and play. The student seemed a bit off balance by the invitation. It wasn’t that he was timid before audiences; it was that he didn’t know how to play the piano. But Chris insisted, almost as if missing the most important part of the information. Chris kept emphasizing he was free to play anything he wanted. Again the student, in a somewhat embarrassed manner, explained that he didn’t know how to play the piano. And then Chris pressed his point.

Although the student had the opportunity, he really didn’t have the freedom. Opportunity and freedom are not the same thing. Chris’s freedom to play the full spectrum of music, to passionately express the music within his soul, was only available to him as a result of years and years of discipline.

If you would ask the average person for a definition of freedom, my guess is you would get something along the lines of “the absence of restriction.” Today, freedom means “I can do what I want or who I want when I want to do it, and you can’t do a thing to stop me.” Therefore, “the Ten Commandments become symbols of religious oppression, and so as free people we can now, without apprehension, live beyond these archaic restraints.”

But what is the end result of exercising these “freedoms”? Dissatisfaction. Depression. Discontentment. When that which is easily attainable is attained, it has lost all value. We have exercised our “freedom” in seeking that which we selfishly desire, but in the end we only become slaves to our own lusts.

In Psalm 119:32 David declares, “I run in the path of your commands, for You have set me heart free.”

Does this verse seem counterintuitive to you? It did to me. Wouldn’t it make more sense if it said “I run in the path of your commands because You said I have to.” I feel like I often falter here. I sometimes attempt to do what God commands because I genuinely want to make Him happy, but I do it begrudgingly. If I truly had my way, I would take advantage of my “freedom” and live as the world lives.

But no!! If I’m thinking this way I am completely missing the point.

It’s true; we mustn’t forget that God gave us the Law because the violation of it is an utter violation of His Character. A single misstep is a vile affront to His Holiness.

But we also mustn’t think that these commandments are the arbitrary fancies of a killjoy! “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalms 19:7)”

I think that as a church we do a pretty good job remembering that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)” But we stop there. We fall into cycles of sin management. We think of the work of the Cross as solely a substitution: Christ taking our sins away from us. Consequentially, our faith becomes merely the process of taking away the bad, to try and make ourselves better people. But to what end? We have just reduced the Law of God to a list of DO NOT’s.

Often we forget that the work of Christ on the Cross is not only the substitutionary atonement of sins, but that it allowed us to receive His Spirit, birthing within us His very character. It is a subtraction AND an addition.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new Spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36: 26-27)”

It is because God has put His Spirit within us that we are able to “walk in His statutes” and “run in the path of His commands”. We are set free from our sinful desires and our desires begin to conform to God Almighty’s. This is the “freedom that only God can give, where we once again become like Him. It is here and only here that freedom exists without boundaries. You are free to love without limit, to forgive, to be merciful, to be generous, to be compassionate, to sacrifice, to enjoy, and to live.”

Remember, Jesus tells us “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Is adherence to these laws “legalism”? If this is the case Jesus was the most legalistic person in history!

But no, He proclaims: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-19)”

Psalm 37:4 tells us, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” “When you make God your primary passion, He transforms all the passions of your heart. The result of this transformation is that it will be God’s pleasure to fulfill those passions.” But does that mean this transformation is easy? Of course not. Scripture lays out several disciplines that we can work into our lives to better conform to the Image of Christ, such as prayer, fasting, reading the Scriptures, and witnessing. I’ve never been able to fully integrate these into my daily life, because honestly, I haven’t really tried. But it’s OK, right? I don’t want to be legalistic.

I shudder when I look at the utter lack of discipline I have allowed to fester in my bones with the excuse “I don’t want to be legalistic”. If I’m honest with myself I have to say that Sloth has become my greatest vice. Freedom in Christ is not freedom to let our souls atrophy and become apathetic. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)”

We cannot truly accomplish the wildest desire of the Heart of God until we have allowed Christ to refine our hearts, by the excruciating process of stripping away our sinful desires and growing in us His very character. This is not an overnight procedure. God has laid out a strenuous workout regiment for us to beat the sin out of our bodies and He does not offer us any kind of “spiritual liposuction”. Our Father has called us to compose a masterpiece with our lives; we will always fail if we leave our instrument to rot in the closet.

It is time to think of freedom as a proactive measure. In a very true sense, it is only through discipline that we can achieve freedom.

This isn’t legalism. This is worship.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Desire and Religion

Two books I am reading right now are about the awakening of desire. I didn't consciously choose to read two books on this subject, but here I am.

Here are a few quotes to consider:

"In large part world religions seem predominately focused on the restraint, sublimation, or even elimination of human desires."
--Uprising by Erwin McManus

"In Thy presence is the fullness of joy, in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."
--Psalm 16:11

"A new heart I will give you, and a new Spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to observe My ordinances."
--Ezekiel 36:26-27

Here is my question:

Isn't Biblical Christianity in fact closer to humanism than the majority of world religions (Islam, Buddism, Hinduism, Phariseeism)? From a cursory glance at these religions, the end of humanity seems to be purification by the repression of desire , as if desire is a plague that must be expunged. But, as it turns out, the only way to become any less human is to suffocate the life from within.

However, adherants to both Humanism and the Bible seem to agree that desire is a compass directing them to what will make them happy. Both are seeking to become fully human. One does what comes naturally. The other does what comes Supernaturally.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Tying God's Hands

“How can God exist when there is pain in the world?”

The question is forefront in the minds of many who encounter tragedy. At first thought it seems impossible that a God who is all-good and all-powerful would allow such unpleasant realities as pain or evil to come into reality in the first place.

Ever since I was old enough to ask this question myself, I have heard the same answer: “There is no love without free will. There is no free will without the possibility of abuse. This abuse of free will is called evil.” This made perfect sense to me, and for goodness sake, C. S. Lewis says as much in his book The Problem of Pain.

The point at which this whole paradigm came crashing down for me was about two years ago. Many of you students from UT will be familiar with Cliff Knectle, a pastor from up north who comes to Austin about once a year to answer questions for skeptics of the Bible. I have a deep admiration for him and his endurance, every day he is rejected and beaten down because He is taking a stand for Christ. Without fail, every couple of hours the question arises, “How can a loving God allow evil” and every couple of hours he provides the answer: “Love is impossible without free will. Just as God can’t make a circle a square, He can’t make us truly love Him without giving us free will. Of course, in order to have free will, we must have a choice. In order to have a choice we must have something else to choose. That thing is evil.” Cliff provided the same answer I had heard all my life, but something different happened this time:

I was immediately furious.

Why? At first glance his answer would seem perfectly correct. It fell in line with all that I had ever heard and even what I had taught my students. But there was one phrase in particular that set me off: “God can’t”.

God can’t? ...


The God of the Bible … the all the powerful YAHWEH? This is the God who created the cosmos with a whisper; the God who eradicated mankind with a massive flood; the God who liberated His people from the enslavement with plagues demonstrating His infinite and intricate control over all creation. This is the God who saved this bastard child of satan from the clutches of hell by pouring out His wrath upon His only begotten Son.

Do you mean to tell me that this God is perplexed by the intricacies of plane geometry? Is this God’s omnipotence held in check by the Almighty Shape???

The thought is absurd. But think of the implication. Is God forced to give us free will because true love simply won’t work otherwise? God is love and the creator of our ability to love Him and each other. Were God’s hands tied so that He was forced to allow evil into the world via free will? If we assert that this is true we have elevated the terrestrial reality “Love is not possible without free will” above the eternal truth “God is all powerful”.

What does this mean then? Did God intend for evil to exist? The Bible clearly says that God is good and in Him is no darkness at all. The Bible is just as clear that God is sovereign and all powerful. How can we reconcile these two truths?

There is only one solution:

All of history has transpired and will transpire exactly as God intends it: for the ultimate glory of His Name.


Think about it. If God is all good, then story of His Creation throughout all eternity will most perfectly reflect His Eternal Goodness. If God is all powerful, there is nothing in heaven or earth that could ever stop Him.

Through our narrow vision, we see that evil has dug its razor-sharp claws into our flesh, satan has dragged us into the deepest and darkest hell holes, and we can feel the sulfurous breath of demons on our ankles. But Hope is on the way! Hallelujah!

In the perspective of eternity we will see that God has allowed evil to ravage and devour only so that His Awesome Power may be most fully demonstrated in the rescue of His own. In His total sovereignty, He knows how He may most fully glorify Himself in our history, from the most mundane details of our daily lives, to the rise and fall of nations.

Was God powerless to stop Adam from eating the apple? Is God powerless to create a world where there is love without free will?

By no means.

It may seem impossible to believe, we live in the best of all possible worlds, because we serve the best of all possible gods: The true God. This God was not forced to allow evil so that we could truly love Him. He chose to allow evil that He may most truly demonstrate His Glory.

The circle is circle because that is how it brings the all good, all powerful God of creation the most possible glory in this best of all possible worlds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Startling Realization

God the Father is not bound by His commandments for His creatures, just as He is not bound by the physical laws of His creation.

Stop and think about the implications of that.

When He says that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4), it is His divine prerogative.

Here are some tougher pills to swallow:
“Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13) and “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15)

The commands God has set up for His Creation simply do not bind the Creator.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In church recently, Matt has been emphasizing that Jesus did not just take on our sin, He became sin. What is the distinction? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Role of Culture in Essential Humanity

I wrote that title because it sounds like a dissertation or something. I definitely don't enough to say about culture and humanity to write a thesis. All I have at the moment is a question: How much of our identity (specifically the way we learn, the way we interact with one another, the way we worship) is merely a result of the context we are born into and the way we were raised? How much of our identity is actually written into our "spiritual DNA", meaning when we are in heaven for eternity, how much of our personalities will remain?

Basically I'm putting a new spin on the whole nature versus nurture debate. I'll leave it at that for now and I'd love to hear your thoughts.