Totally off-track// Tortuga
Here’s just a comment (originally to Apollo, but I figured I’d put it here instead), sorry guys!
So it’s been a while since I’ve seen our dollars, and I just pulled out a twenty and realized I’d forgotten Jackson was on it. Now all I can think is how perverse and bizarre our country is and how complicit we are in forgetting or ignoring what’s happened (t)here. Why is his face there? Why do we let him stay there? Are we afraid to denounce him? There are so many reasons to be proud of the U.S. and most of them come down to the principles we’ve managed to live out. For every one of those principles, though, we’ve also done something entirely in the opposite, and usually pretty frequently and grotesquely.
I wish we could step back and honestly identify how corrupt we’ve been, at least it would be honest. The one thing is, by having Jackson on the 20 we’re constantly broadcasting part of our history. Even though being on money is an honor, I’d like to think we keep him there to remind ourselves of how terrible our enlightened society, what we’ve called the last great hope, has proven itself to be. I guess it can serve for those who follow Christ as a reminder of how far short this nation we’re in falls from the reality that Christ has ushered in as God’s Kingdom.
In any case, I’m really glad that Jesus Christ is who he is, and our record of his life and words and works hasn’t been corrupted. We’ve done a lot of horrible things in this country and tried to say it was for the God of the Bible. We’ve been so willing to lie and cheat our way out of God’s word to get what we really wanted to, and have justified so much evil with a book which is full of a more powerful love and the most true good than anything else records. If the Bible were just written by normal people, it wouldn’t so powerfully counter our nature, which casts humans aside like waste. I believe that if the Bible were just written by normal people without the Spirit’s guidance, it probably wouldn’t condemn us even when we try to say we’re following it. If it were just human writing, it would probably endorse our evil.
4:46 pm • 7 August 2012
The Days go on// Tortuga
I harden my heart in so many ways. I know the good I ought to do, and then desperately try to pretend like I never heard anything that might lead me to believe God meant for me to actually go through with it.
I’m in good Christian company in this hard-hearted place. We know that Christ told us to give to everyone who begs from us, but we go beyond just saying “Well, I’m not sure what he’d use the money for and I might just be making a problem worse” and often don’t give at all. We don’t smile, don’t engage in conversation, we just ignore those asked of us and go our way.
He also told us to give more of what we’ve got on us if someone tries to steal, so if they ask for your wallet, give them your jacket too. Does this happen? I think I might be too afraid to consider what action I should take in that instance. Often people try to struggle or resist, and at the very least, we all try to find a way to get our stuff back. But Jesus the actual person told us to just let stuff go, and to give and give and give.
He also said to treat people as we would like to be treated. That’s so often repeated and sewed into pillows that it seems meaningless, but when you think about what he’s actually saying in its full weight, it smacks you pretty hard in the face. Jesus is talking about that while saying to love those who are persecuting us, who hate us. To pray for the good of the one who would torture and beat us. Our love for God, who loves and gives and gives and gives to the evil and ungrateful (which would be, well…us), should be so strong that even when we’re getting hurt badly we can see beyond ourselves to the creation of God whose actively harming us or wishing us harm.
If we’re supposed to that for our active enemies, we probably shouldn’t avoid going out of our way to show love and serve the normal people who aren’t actually planning our pain. I wish I loved God enough to love his creation enough to want to desperately serve him in humility by serving in his kingdom. I really wanted that once, but lately I have to remind myself that it’s God’s will. I need to get back to studying His word and hope that He fills me with energy and love to pour myself out for others and see beyond myself. He’s definitely matured me to a point of sensitivity and selflessness I used to be far, far away from, and I don’t want to say that I’m totally terrible because He’s actually done a lot in me, but I’m also far, far away from the model of love, humility, and service shown by our awesome God, covered in dirt and blood, nailed to a tree, washing our feet, and being moved by our needs.
God is such a better human than I am.
1:44 pm • 3 August 2012
Blood and wailing and kicking. Bodies stacked on bodies while black smoke burns fat and seeps through the tabernacle and meeting court. Muddy blood splattered on the ground, the walls, the priests, the guilty. That’s how I imagine the sacrificial system God created for the Israelites.
There are guilt, peace, and sin offerings of goats, rams, lambs, birds, and bulls. With hundreds of thousands of guilty, constantly sinning children of Israel, Aaron and his sons must’ve been nearly always killing, burning, skinning, cutting, or moving sacrifices out in the heat.
It’s hard to read and imagine what’s going on without getting that God takes sin really, really seriously. It’s not some far off, philosophical idea that we can minimize and minimize until we’re not really sure we’re doing anything wrong. He’s clear about it, and serious as death. If you sinned, there was gonna be blood—because God is holy. He’s not a person like any they’d ever seen, and he wasn’t a God they could create and they couldn’t invent some new morality. God is holy and the Israelites would be his people, and if that was true, either they would need to be holy like he is holy, to be deserving of him, or they would be destroyed. Since they couldn’t be holy and he didn’t want to destroy them immediately, he let them get away with offering sacrifices, or maybe required sacrifices to remind them how close they were to death and seriously they were to take following him.
If the kicking and whelping of the animals whose necks were slit as their owners laid their hands on the heads wasn’t enough, the Israelites could always remember the other sons of Aaron, who were burnt in fire after improperly preparing incense. Aaron holds his tongue after Moses reminds him of God’s purpose and ultimate authority. Are we capable of holding our tongue and trusting God when the hard stuff comes our way? Or do we try to find ways out of it possibly being God’s doing because we don’t want to believe he could work in the way he might need to, when the world is so broken, to make something better from the broken pots we’ve made ourselves into.
Life is real hard, and I really think it’s because we try not to be satisfied with the surpassing good God’s given us. We’re redeemed and always being redeemed.
But even those miles and miles of lifeless animals, sacrificed every day, every week, every year. All those lives extinguished at their greatest strength, without blemish, to show that sin is a plague and a distortion and it only destroys. Well, they weren’t close to enough. Thank God that we don’t have to pile up the bodies anymore—becoming immune to the cost and emptily and with hard hearts offering another life to cover our latest mishap. Thank God that God’s given us more than a symbol or quick patch—he’s given us full redemption, he’s let us become the sacrifices, only to be raised again into life.
We get to be lambs, but instead of littering the desert, he lifts us up and starts to mold us and shape us. I know I’m undeserving to even be a sacrifice before the Lord—I’m not unblemished or the mightiest, only Christ is. Thank God that his love and humility were so great that he became what we couldn’t even stoop so low to be, that in all ways he is a better man and one we don’t deserve.
7:15 pm • 17 July 2012
19// Alive. - Tortuga
And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Just like that!
The thing is, when I look at my life I realize what an antagonist I am. I’m a horrible television friend always borrowing money from the main character and never repaying—acting like I legitimately care before stealing his car knowing he needs it to drive his sick grandmother to the hospital for dialysis. And every time I show up on the show again, you’re like “NOOOOO! Why do they even have this character? He’s so unbelievable! So unrelatable! And all it does is make the main character seem like a total idiot for forgiving him over and over again.” Even so, I keep popping back up in every.single.episode and in every.single.episode I do something more callous than seems possible, as the main character seems to waste his time carefully tending to me and all the problems I pile on top of him, before going out and creating more problems for myself which I then casually pass on to him.
That’s the same exact story the Israelites were running. Like Keith said, you can’t help but think they suffer from serious defects in adapting to reality when they so quickly forget who the Lord is and what he’s done. Just as it was for them it is for me; the best character in my own life, the one everyone identifies with because they couldn’t imagine being the annoyingly reoccurring jerk, isn’t even me! In my own life I’m the antagonist! I’m fighting myself and tripping myself up and tying myself up to be thrown onto the train tracks!
Timmy Shaw once said that if human history were theater we would be the fourth servant while God played every other role. That’s true, in that God’s the one authoring history, who actually understands everything that’s going on, and who’s very nature sort of obliterates the idea of human sovereignty. I’d say you could also make an argument that if life were a play, humanity would play the damsel in distress as well as the wicked queen. We’re farcically chasing ourselves into the grave while God’s running after us over and over.
The resurrection is of inconceivable importance, and if I were to really meditate on it as it deserves (and it deserves all my thoughts, certainly), I’d only be able to grapple with some of the myriad, flowing consequences. What I can say is that even if my life is still often a tiringly self-defeating string of poor moves, since accepting Christ and the resurrection God has actually been prevailing.
I don’t want to pretend like I’m always on board with God’s work. I’d love to say that I am, because it makes absolute sense—his free love and grace and mercy are the best deal, offered at the price of Christ’s life and giving me access to unending and abiding peace and life. I’d love to say I’m so rational as to live a life which reflects the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection—in reality, I’m not. I still choose to act like that’s not true, or act like even though it’s true, it’s not the absolutely incredible reality-tearing obliteration of death and suffocating invasion of perfect love that it actually is. That is to say, I take it for granted.
Even with my thick-skulled hardheartedness, I can’t sit here and deny that he’s actually prevailed. I’ve seen myself say and do things that I would never have normally even conceived of. I’ve stopped myself from saying and doing things that I would never have otherwise even cared to think twice about. I know I can be pretty self-righteous sometimes, but that doesn’t do anything to explain the change and growth I’ve undergone in the past few years. Believe me, my desire for sin is a lot stronger than my desire to look like I don’t have sin. Plus, you can get extra self-righteous points now for calling someone out for judging you when you do actually sin, so it goes both ways.
I am alive and growing only because of the resurrection of Christ. For those of you who know me and where I’ve been, you know that at times in my life the idea of self-control has seemed to me like blasphemy.
Christ is Risen Christ is Risen Christ is Risen. There’s really no other explanation for the things I’ve seen, the lives I’ve seen changed, the healing I’ve watched take people (and myself) over. I’ve seen salvation flowing, even uphill against an avalanche of obstinate hedonism, and salvation isn’t offered by anything other than Christ. That’s because every other philosophy you’re gonna find isn’t actually offering salvation, it’s saying that you can find a way to save yourself. Every other philosophy says that salvation’s on the top of a mountain you’re gonna have to climb on your own, or it judgmentally tells you you’re already there and just better than the evil ones.
Since that mountain’s impossible to climb when bombarded by our wants and desires, I’m glad that there’s at least one person who was willing to take on the fight I never was. I know that God will continue to redeem me, and my opposition will become less and less powerful. So love wins, and we can actually start living LIFE.
It is done.
Our sins are carried far away.
Christ is Risen.
We are found.
7:29 pm • 11 July 2012
13// - Tortuga
“And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
A second ago, the Israelites were complaining that Moses had needlessly brought them out of Egypt, just to die in the desert. They had, of course, seen God turn all water in Egypt to blood, kill all the livestock and firstborn sons of Egypt, seen the land covered in gnats and locusts and frogs. They had witnessed one of the most bizarre events to come to Earth. Not only that, but they had then been led out by a pillar of fire bright enough in the night to light the way for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions (according to this one Bible site I found), of travelers.
A pillar of fire, scorching the sky, lighting the way, that wasn’t enough to still them and help them rest and trust in God.
In my life I’ve had my own pillars of fire—my own moments of undeniable power/intrusion by God. I’ve had so many moments where I know that who I’ve become, or what I’ve seen happen would not be possible or conceivable in a world not being tightly held by God. Things that wouldn’t be possible if God himself wasn’t tightly holding on to me.
Even so, this week I found myself needing to step back and really remember Jesus. Not that I had forgotten, but it was like the impact of Christ had slipped out of my mind. I had stopped looking at the world as the one which Christ entered, which he served, and for which he was whipped, beaten, persecuted, crushed, and crucified. I’d forgotten to see life through what God had done—that all’s been done, and I’m now a laborer in God’s vineyard. I’d forgotten what it meant to look like God, to look like Christ. I’d forgotten the love, and the justice.
And maybe this seems a bit rich, given all the things we’ve really gotta get done in our lives, but seeking God and simply giving up on running after things other than loving God, well, that’s the point.
I guess my point is this: the Israelites here thought there was a better option, even though God had shown them fantastic faithfulness. They didn’t think doing what he said would actually prove…good. In Christ, we’ve been given the most excellent and perfect view of the mystery of God. We’ve seen clearly what living, breathing, perfect love looks like. We learn what real grace and humility are. Nevertheless, I forget that Christ has shown the most perfect life—flawless, makellos, and even though only he was capable of living so, he is still our goal.
It’s ours to trust God, let him fight for us and be silent. To revel in his love and perfection, realize that Christ is the center even if we don’t daily remember. And it’s also ours to choose him every day and trust the perfect life and perfect love, and not sit fearful of future days and the problems they might bring—after all, we may die at any moment.
Anyways, that stood out. And I want to remember Christ, put him at the center, and learn every day what really following him is, because he’s perfect love. Perfect love binds us together, blots out fear and darkness, frees us from ourselves, and pulls us into flawless life with hope and joy that roll on forever like green hills of an endless shore.
2:41 pm • 8 July 2012
10// A note on being okay. Tortuga
4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
When I look back at difficult times in my life, I rarely have any moments of wide-reaching understanding and acceptance. If I look back at them at all, any good I see coming from them I acknowledge, but feel a bit awkward saying that alone was the purpose. This is mostly because I assume that God’s plan is wider and more complex than I can really understand, and its effects are probably more intertwined and difficult to follow than I can hope to catch.
Even if I do see the good that came from it, I don’t suddenly absolve anyone involved in that bad from any responsibility. Yet right here Joseph essentially tells his brothers that their having thrown him down a well and then sold him into slavery shouldn’t cause them worry, because it was part of God’s plan for the continuation of their family, their people, and the promise he made to them. “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
What do you make of this? Surely selling your brother into slavery out of jealousy is sin, and something that only a sinner could do. Even so, this suggests that this was the method God devised to carry out his plan. He gave Joseph the dreams that made his brothers jealous, though his father’s favoritism didn’t help either. In any case, this would seem to suggest that God relied on the sin of mankind to carry out his plan (which you could argue he did with Christ’s crucifixion, as well).
Joseph doesn’t seem to hold his brothers responsible, but does God? This is one of those situations where I feel there’s not really a whole lot of respect for our belief in our sovereignty. It complicates the whole view of sin, salvation, punishment, and responsibility. God holds us responsible for our actions, but also knows what we’re going to do and allows sin, even relies on sin, to happen. Am I going too far?
I guess I’m just saying, I really don’t get how stuff works. I guess all I need to understand is that before Christ in my life, I was headed for meaninglessness and willing to believe my own made-up opinions as if they were carved-in-stone-truth, and that with Jesus, I can actually live because he has died and lives again.
Maybe that seems simple, and maybe I’m too tired to go further. At the end of the day, though, I’m not going to understand how God completely relates to this creation, and the man Jesus Christ walking and healing and speaking and bleeding and dying and rising for me—that’s the best idea of who God is and what that means for us.
One last tiny thought: God hurts for our hurt and his love binds us to him tighter than anything. That’s a complicated thing to attach to any double-predestination. Then again, I’m constantly amazed by God’s love—I can’t say I perfectly understand it.
In sum, I’m dumb!
Oh and Joseph, I meant to say that his ability to accept the bad in his life and see the good that has come from it and to glorify God for the work he’s done despite the pain he had to experience is excellent. Of course, God proved his mercy and love to Joseph over a long period of time after he got sold, with a lot of gold. It wouldn’t hurt to try to reflect on the past day, month, year, decade, and think about some of the darkest moments and see what God has made from them. I know that the two hardest periods of my life felt horrible and hopeless at the time, but those two times have since proven absolutely vital to my ability to relate to God and to recognize my reliance on him.
No stress God bless, brothers and sisters.
7:25 pm • 4 July 2012
9// Actions, words, Kingdom
So I fell a bit behind on reading, on account of there being actually quite a lot to read everyday and excuses excuses. The result being that I spent a lot of time tonight running in a dark, wet park thinking about Jesus talking to the Pharisees and healing a man’s hand. Jesus then rebukes them for condemning the man to not be healed on the Sabbath when they would just as quickly save their animals from a fall or injury. He then says, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:7-8)
I really don’t spend that much time with trees in the dark normally, let me say, it’s just been a good week.
The reason why I lingered on this so long was that, well, I wasn’t really sure that I understood exactly what Jesus was saying. Didn’t God make the Sabbath? Is it really okay for us to ignore it? How much sabbath wiggle-room is there? If there’s a bit of freedom with the Sabbath, is Jesus saying that’s open to everyone, or just the Lord of the Sabbath? Is he condemning them for saving their animals, or saying, well, it’s-what-people-do-so-oh-well?
Part of me felt like I should really have this down and not need to think of it, and even felt sort of foolish. Then I realized I was being overly proud—thinking that maybe I was too good to even ask questions like that. To be honest, my biblical knowledge and understanding is not extremely strong. There’s a lot I know, but there’s much more that I never noticed or never took time to think about. Whenever we try to study God’s word and learn from it, it’s never really good to go in thinking we already understand it all. That’s one of the problems with doing so fast a plan, it’s like you’re learning many, many lessons at once, and if you don’t take the time to actually mull everything over you just get sort of…inured to the greatness of it all.
The problem for me is that if I really do read something, I’m tempted to think I’ve already gotten everything out of it that I can, like a newspaper article. But the Bible is speaking to the ongoing, dynamic relationship that God and I and humanity have, so every time I go back to it, it might not have changed and God might not, but I pretty much always have—even if I might not feel any better or worse or different.
In any case, I figured the Pharisees were abusing the Sabbath. Maybe instead of actually trying to love and care and seek the heart of God, they wanted to put on all the external dress, without actually trying to understand what it meant. If so, given the personal ego benefits that come with self-justification, I can’t say I don’t understand at all. And then I have to think about what things I do which might look like they’re for God, but are really just there to reassure myself that God and I are okay, and our relationship doesn’t need working on. Par exemple, if I skip church, I sort of feel like a good-for-nothing lazy bum. It’s a nice external marker that I’m letting God slip a bit in my estimation of worth. It’s a lot harder to notice when you aren’t thinking about God as often, or praying as frequently, or your thoughts become more focused on what you want and need, and not to being open to how God could use you in someone else’s life.
So basically, keeping up outward marks can help keep both us and other people from looking at our spiritual lives too closely and finding something questionable. As Jesus showed in that passage though, it’s not our puppet-living that he wants, and it’s not really anything good anyways.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matt 13:44
I want to want the kingdom of heaven more than anything. In truth, I really do want to live with Christ and serve him more than anything else—when I really actually think about it. My pro and con lists for following Christ would be sogging with ink on the pro side. But day to day, I allow myself to slip, because it’s hard work actually paying attention to what I’m doing and forcing myself to think about God instead what I want. There are days and times when following God feels so natural—I still need to think about it, but my thoughts are more easily molded towards God. Other days it’s an actual mental struggle.
What I struggle with the most, then, is memory loss. I forget how much I love God and how much he loves me. I forget everything that God has done for me, all he’s done in my life to help me move past so many of the serious struggles that hurt me and cut me and left me in tears asking and asking for forgiveness and strength. I wake up in the morning and it’s like there’s no such thing as historical or character continuity. I feel like a new person (which is good and true in Christ), but without memory it’s ill-informed. Since I’m good at forgetting things (you know this), this is actually a problem, and it eats away at my gratitude, which is toxic, really.
I also wanted to write something about the kingdom of God and pursuing it, but I guess I’ll save that for later.
One last thing,
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.” 2 Tim 2: 22-25
I think about this when we let all those other aspects of our identity get in the way of loving each other. Like when we get really wrapped up in politics (this is actually often a problem for me, when someone has completely different views from me I sometimes find it difficult not to think that they’re actually an evil, lying, hypocrite who falsely calls themselves a Christian. I’m such an evil, lying, hypocrite.), or nationalism, or, gosh, opinions on fonts and trees and football. Basically, I like engaging in foolish, ignorant controversies and idle talk sometimes, because it can be fun to poke fun at Canada. Nevertheless, it’s sort of another sign that I’m not really willing to be God’s son and to make it my life goal to show him to people when I use words that way. Politics can be so awful and it can highlight the fact that the way people who call themselves Christians act and speak sometimes has absolutely nothing to the God we pledge our all to. Anyways, gotta try to be more careful on that point, because as our best bro said:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12:33-37
Oh, my careless words.
Good thing God’s love never fails!
Oh and pray for Nigeria.
6:31 pm • 2 July 2012
6// The woman and the garment. The sea storm. Really, Jacob? Tortuga
“And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment,for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.” Matthew 9:20-22
Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8: 26b-27
Tonight I stood alone in a dark German forest for a good forty-five minutes staring at fireflies. Those bugs are awesome things, and really easy to catch. While I stood there, it felt like everything was falling into place—it didn’t help that before this I had been biking around down scarcely populated paths singing about how the world declares God’s glory. I’ve spent a lot of my life pushing back on God, telling him that whatever his plan for me might be, I’m sure I can probably scrap something better together after a few seconds thought. I’ve done this despite him giving me really good reason to trust him, and to think before I act.
Standing there tonight, I wanted to be like the bugs and the trees and the animals shuffling around in the bushes—to rest in what God’s given me to do. Granted, I’d like to do it while fully consciously recognizing why. I wanted to be close to the God who’s both proven his love for me cannot fail and who is also the unfathomable. I wanted to stop struggling for the sake of feeling free to struggle, and remember that I’m a part of God’s creation, made to testify to something ultimately so much greater than me.*
Next thought! I’ve really liked the passage about the woman just catching Jesus’ clothes and believing that could be enough for a long while. It’s an act of such humility and gentleness, and also bare, embarrassing humanity. She’s suffered for a long time, but doesn’t want to draw a lot of attention to herself (which works out really well in the other accounts), and honestly believes that God’s power is that sure and steady that just a brush could be enough. Hers isn’t a simple faith, it’s honest, and it’s desperate.
More than that, she (like the centurion in Matt 8) didn’t presume to really be even worthy of Jesus’ help, even though they might have reasonably felt justified. I haven’t always been the best son, and I still often expect a lot from my mom that isn’t really fair—that is, I feel entitled. But these two people set such a beautiful example (like Abraham does, but not Jacob at all) of what casting our hopes on Christ look like. There is, of course, a bit of a difference between asking for physical healing and asking for the healing of our hearts and minds and souls.
The second one still requires us to be humble and desperate, but it’s a more thorough and far-reaching thing, and the world wasn’t constantly trying to break the woman’s body, but it is pushing us to seek things besides God.
And then the calming of the sea, which stuck out to me tonight because it places Christ so centrally as God made flesh. It reminds us that creation actually belongs to God, who is sovereign of all things. The water and wind actually belong to Christ. Then to hear him waive off the significance of what he’s just done by saying “You of little faith,” foreshadowing the time when Christ tells us we’ll do even greater things than what we’d seen him do, through the Spirit. And you may have read this a lot of times, but you’ve gotta step back and look at it and think, wait, that’s nothing for God. And I guess that’s the point, because that’s only possible for God.
And because of his total sovereignty, and my falling into that, it reminds me that God is actually going to restore creation and his children in a way that no other power could. He’s so incredibly, thoroughly, beautifully awesome! Everyone fails, everyone’s broken, but God has done everything to lift us up and mold us and help us to actually live not just walk and run after things that seem cool. He allows us to actually love and serve and be free from the pride, the vanity, the self-righteousness. We get to flow with the arc of God’s great history.
So yeah, I just want to rest in God’s call, which actually means accepting suffering and actively pursuing righteousness and working in the vineyard (9 ends with Jesus saying there aren’t enough workers). But by rest, I mean, not struggle against the good that he’s prepared, but to accept it, and to recognize God for what he is, and me for what I am, and not to prolong the daily struggle between alternate views of our respective positions (one view being a flat-out made-up lie of mine) any longer than is necessary.
Also, Jacob is a really great marker of how God loves humanity despite our many shortcomings, and that the process of salvation doesn’t come free and easy.
*Note on the difference between following Christ and being a great football fan: People join movements that feel larger than themselves for a number of reasons. It could be that being part of that larger group makes them feel powerful and somehow influential (nationalism). It may be that it allows them to not feel as personally responsible, because they can disappear into the group. They might take pride from the accomplishments of the group (sports!) and identify so strongly to that group that the success or failure of the group has ramifications for their personality (which is why Cal football actually hurts me sometimes and the Big Game can be real physical pain, haha). But following Christ and being part of the body of Christ is different. In doing that, you’re not comforting your own identity or your own ability. You’re not becoming a better you. You’re saying that you are, from head-to-toe, birth till now, broken. You’re so broken you can’t even follow your own internal code of morality, which is probably already pretty subjective and maybe self-serving. Following Christ and being part of his body requires you to give up everything, to look after others before yourself, to recognize that God is the point of every story. If you start looking at your accomplishments in God as saying something great about you—or looking at God’s accomplishments as saying something great about you by proxy (because you made the intelligent decision to believe in him), you’re not really following him. You’re building him into an idol to support your true idol, which is your self.
Okay! Just an add-on!
No stress God bless
8:51 pm • 29 June 2012
4// Sermon on the Mount, and Abram is given a son. Tortuga
So we’re now at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the base text I imagine Christ using when the Bible says he spoke to the people or preached and it doesn’t go on to say what it was, exactly, that he said. As a side note, I also really like how not-fluid it is. Sometimes I read John and it’s all just so well-written, and I believe John’s written the truth of what he experienced. Still, this sermon reads like someone was writing down everything they ever remembered Jesus saying, it’s not well-ordered, it’s not cleverly adept at transitions. It’s as if Matthew wrote down everything he could on a lot of napkins before going back and putting it down on some serious paper—which is to say, it feels like an authentic experience sitting in front of Jesus.
Jesus is doing a lot in this passage, but as I see it right now, in this moment, Jesus is laying out so clearly what God has shown throughout human history. He’s saying that the human societies we build, the human understandings we have, are really, essentially, lacking. In Luke, Jesus first blesses the poor, hungry, and mourning, before saying “Woe” to the rich, full, and laughing, because everything they think they have will be taken away from them.
First point: Jesus is showing that worldly values are totally pointless and worthless, i.e. health, wealth, and happiness are not the point of life and are just lies (the Woes in Luke 6)
Something uncomfortable for me is how often and unconsciously I judge people and evaluate them. More often though, I’m judging myself and trying to find ways to gauge my worth. I’ll go for a run because I feel lazy and feeling lazy makes me feel like I’m losing worth, or I honestly just want to look good because that’s an extra point of worldly worth. My heart will start racing madly while I wait for my grades to load at the end of the semester, because what if something terrible happened and I fell short? I try to figure out how much money I’m earning and feel validated, even if it’s just intern wages. Really, I’m the most judgmental about myself, and the value system I use (which I recognize at the time is completely useless and not grounded in the real reality) is so completely vapid, weak, insecure, and competitive that if it was never reigned in, I don’t think I would ever be happy.
We live in a Leistungsgesellschaft (Ger.: lie-stoons-guh-zell-shoft), a society which places value on excelling, having wealth and worldly accomplishments. Even people who say they’re not working for money or power are working towards achievements, markers that verify the legitimacy of their path. We want to believe we’re not wasting our time here, and we’ve developed an array of markers to show us what it means to be personally successful. When I read the Beatitudes, and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, my major impression is that what God is doing and building, is a complete and absolute revolution. This is a God who has overcome the world. He’s unrelenting, uncompromising, and everything he’s saying is an invasion of alien philosophy.
Here, God is shooting down the false values we cling to, telling us we could die at any time and that money, power, and health will be meaningless (later in the Gospels). He says woe to us if we take comfort in wealth, because it really doesn’t mean anything to be rich. We actually risk not knowing God and experiencing his wealth if we cling too tightly—Jesus says in Luke that the rich have “received their consolation”.
Second Point: God is actually the point of human life, and we should be happy if we see past all the other crud and rely on Him, even more so if the road is hard
Part of that whole reordering is replacing every lie with the Truth (whoa there). Being poor and small and hungry doesn’t really have inherent value. If so, why would God always use illustrations of the opposite to describe life with him and paradise? Being full and secure seem to be positive. And this is where my Matthew interpretation and my Luke interpretation sort of split. With Luke, I think Jesus seems to be showing that a whole different system is being brought into the world, one which overthrows old powers and establishes righteousness. In Matthew, he seems to be supplanting normal values and saying that following God produces true riches and true life, while simultaneously showing that he’s overthrowing the world.
The people who suffer persecution for Christ’s sake are those who really clearly understand who he is, and are willing to lose everything recognizing the surpassing worth of the Lord and life with Him. So of course they’d rejoice, because they’ve seen past every single lie, being willing to give even their physical life (their last security) because of their conviction in him.
Last Point: The standard God holds us to is really high and impossible for sinners, so it’s a great thing that we can actually become new creations through Christ’s death and resurrection
Jesus then goes on to uncompromisingly introduce a whole new understanding of human life. What I’m looking at is how he says that we murder people when we’re angry with them, or commit adultery with them when we lust after them—this isn’t just setting up new, stricter rules. It’s starting to pick out the root of our sin in our characters themselves. I mean, lusting after someone as they walk past or getting angry with someone aren’t premeditated or always intentional—they just sort of happen. But how could they “just sort of happen” if we weren’t already the people they would happen to?
So God’s reminding us that we don’t really know anything about value, that we’re the type to build idiotic golden calves and to feel better about ourselves because we won a chess match, instead of being constant in his love. This is one of those very serious places where Jesus is outlining the things that he requires, the things that “those who love him” will actually do. And it’s not to win and gloat and amass a fortune. It’s to be poor, to serve, to be merciful, to rejoice in persecution, and to remember that we belong to God. His commandments also seem impossible at this point, sort of like when you’re playing a video game and you see all these objects, but you can’t do anything with them until you’ve played further, and gotten the tool you need to use them. That’s because what Jesus is pointing to is the life in the Spirit, forgiven and reborn through his coming death and resurrection.
Of course, it’s a tricky process to actually look and live the way Jesus is saying is the minimum here, but isn’t it awesome that he’s set the bar so high? That we have something so great to work towards? I’d love to be a merciful, peace-making, meek man, because Jesus says it’s what’s good. If he hadn’t I wouldn’t have anything to say to the part of me that would very much like to own an island and have a private military and do whatever with whoever whenever. Thankfully though, God did say these things and set this bar and give value to these things, bringing up the weak and shaming the strong, then giving us His spirit so we can actually understand and grow—and without self-righteousness!
Honestly, if anything testifies to the power of the Spirit, it’s that I can actually say I even want to strive for those things, because that has not always been so (and often I ignore that I do want to, so that I can get my way and pretend that God doesn’t see).
Oh and, God used Abram, a back-country old man and gave him a son through Sarai, even though both of them had given up faith (which is super rich, because God talked to Abram a lot to reassure him that he’d give him a kid, and Abram still goes and impregnates the servant). So God is faithful with us, even when we’re unbelieving and contradictory. Woo!
5:52 pm • 27 June 2012
2// Fall, Fratricide, Flood -Tortuga de Muerte
So then, I think one of the major things that comes from reading the Bible is an appreciation akin to staring into the stars and realizing they’re all billions on billions of world-destroying nuclear fires. This to say, there’s a lot more going on here than me being hungry and considering whether or not to get another bowl of cereal, go watch a game, or let my eyes and mind wander places they’d probably be better off avoiding.
Suddenly you’re forced to realize how much God has been doing, and that he really is the main character of all history. You also realize how completely ordinary you and maybe everyone you’ve ever met actually are. I mean, this is still just Genesis now, but Ecclesiastes is clinging to my mind, with its talk of nothing new under the sun. I mean to say, Eve and Adam and Cain aren’t strange, bizarre people from a super different culture to whom I can’t relate. Whatever they were or said, their actions don’t feel like something I could never do or imagine doing (not that I feel psychotically jealous or murderous or anything), they’re human and they act like it. They’re short-sighted, silly, selfish, and can really only tend to themselves. When Abel died, a quarter of all people on earth died (right?), but Cain doesn’t really seem disturbed, nor does he really seem to give it much thought ahead of time. Eve just easily trusts herself and her own reasoning before throwing away God’s instruction and everything she knew about him which ought to have informed her decision-making.
As far as I know, I’ve never killed anyone (though I haven’t been the most just consumer, but that’s…different), but I’ve got the same brain chemistry as Eve, Cain, and Adam. When something seems good, I’ve gone for it even if I knew that there were probably some major issues with what I was planning. I’ve looked at my life as a one-man show, where my experience is the only one I need to be accounting for—the first three did the same. They didn’t care what God said or what he would want, they went for what occurred to them might improve their situation. They had a mentality in them already that was prepared to step across God to get to a fantastic illusion of another way. They all wanted to supplant God as the author of life and righteousness, to create their own reality and freedom in it. Subjective morality is probably the first and foremost desire of humanity, and the longest battle has been to establish God as the true author or right and wrong, good and evil, and allow him to supplant us in our own minds and trust.
The coolest thing about Genesis (well, there’s a lot) is how seamless God takes on roles that seem so far apart. In the beginning, all we know is that he’s this incredibly powerful, unimaginably great being who forges earth and sky, but also delights in his work. Then once humans start hanging around, he takes time to walk with them and talk, and give them personal advice and encouragement. Couldn’t God have just told Cain that he knew the intent of his heart and have thrown him into the air and threatened him with endless pain and destruction if he attempted anything on Abel’s life? Couldn’t he have destroyed Cain the second he offered an unacceptable sacrifice? Well, yes, he could’ve. Instead he walked beside him and counseled him, reminding him that sin was crouching at the door and it was Cain’s individual responsibility to reign in sin by himself. He reminded Cain that his life is in his own hands and it was his to lead it well and righteously.
Jump forward to Matthew 1 and God the Son’s being hunted down in Bethlehem, because, well, he’s been born as a baby to rule as king. I know this is really familiar, but the way I think about this moment is in contrast to what I’d do, and compared to one of those earlier steps in God’s plan for salvation.
So then, the flood! By this point human civilization’s all up-and-running, and a few generations really haven’t helped change the human character, resulting in what other than absolute violence stretching on and on. And the thing is, God is now in real, living pain because of how far off-track people went while trying to be their own Gods and write their own morality. “[T]he Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Genesis 6:6
What’s going on here isn’t just people being sort of mean and kindof bad but still generally good, it’s people doing whatever they want to. God’s not forcing them to be nice, he’s not demanding anything from them. This is what human society fell into when there was really no covenant, no overall authority, no external morality. In any case, God is actually aching over his creation, and instead of destroying everything, or scare-facing every human into submission, the destruction of the earth to destroy nearly ALL living things becomes the only working solution to the absolute horror of human civilization. Death on death without end and only the horror of a flood which washes away all life can stem the flow of the darkness of men’s minds.
It’s easy, I think, to look at this story and judge God. To think, what a jerk for destroying everything, surely he could’ve found a less violent way to set things back on track. But then we have to stare at the same God who’s going to get up on a cross and bleed and die for his children. God is love like no one has ever seen. He is love like no one I’ve ever met has had, except in misty glimpses. So when the flood waters rise, I know that this is not a fun or light thing. It’s not a power play. It’s an aching heart and hands that’ll be pierced.
Okay, that was long, I’ll wrap up like this. The Bible is the story of God with us. We don’t know what else He’s been up to—heck, we barely know much of what the Spirit is even doing on Earth now. But the Bible from the first page to the last shows a God that won’t be removed from his creation, that takes it seriously. He’s a God who loves us so much he’ll walk with Cain and counsel him, who loves us so much he realizes Adam’s lonely and cares. He’s a God who loves us so much he couldn’t physically bear the pain of seeing us march off to destruction. He’s a God who’s jealous of the spirit which he’s made to dwell within us and wants us to actually know him and be reconciled.
If God wasn’t so relentless, the OT wouldn’t have so many repetitive stories and the NT wouldn’t ever get close to talking about the Cross of Christ. And if God weren’t so relentless I’d be chasing after air hoping illusions will cushion my head when I run reckless. So yep, God is different and more awesome than I could imagine, and thank God.
5:56 pm • 25 June 2012