One tin soldier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin into flesh. And suppose the tin soldier did not like it. He is not interested in flesh; all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt. He thinks you are killing him. He will do everything he can to prevent you. He will not be made into a man if he can help it.

What you would have done with that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second Person in God, the Son, became human himself: was born into the world as an actual man–a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier–real tin, just like the rest–had come fully and splendidly alive.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

God is deeply upsetting

An excerpt from John Stott’s classic, Basic Christianity, in which he articulates why a man’s problem in seeking God may not be intellectual but moral.

. . . In seeking God we have to be prepared not only to revise our ideas but to reform our lives. The Christian message has a moral challenge. If the message is true, the moral challenge has to be accepted. So God is not a fit object for man’s detached scrutiny. You cannot fix God at the end of a telescope or a microscope and say “How interesting!” God is not interesting. He is deeply upsetting. The same is true of Jesus Christ.

‘We had thought intellectually to examine him; we find he is spiritually examining us. The roles are reversed between us. . . We study Aristotle and are intellectually edified thereby; we study Jesus and are, in the profoundest way, spiritually disturbed. . . We are constrained to take up some inward moral attitude of heart and will in relation to this Jesus. . . A man may study Jesus with intellectual impartiality, he cannot do it with moral neutrality. . . We must declare our colors. To this has our unevasive contact with Jesus brought us. We began it in the calm of the study; we are called out to the field of moral decision.’ [P. Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ, 1930]

This is what Jesus meant when, addressing some unbelieving Jews, he said, “If any man’s will is to do his (that is, God’s) will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” The promise is clear: we can know whether Jesus Christ was true or false, whether his teaching was human or divine. But the promise rests on a moral condition. We have to be ready not just to believe, but to obey. We must be prepared to do God’s will when he makes it known.

— John Stott, Basic Christianity

 

A day in the life: from meth addiction to Christ’s impeccability (pt. 3)

“Did Jesus not sin because he couldn’t or because he didn’t want to?” Not the kind of question a parent anticipates while the family is zoned out on a movie. As an aside, I’m increasingly of the opinion that while almost every question asked a parent should be answered, a little lag time between the Q and the A is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes a postponement is more profitable. You get time to think through the answer and you determine a time/place fitting for the subject matter & the attentiveness you need from the child(ren) who’ll be receiving he answer. But I digress.

So, was Jesus not able to sin? The present concern isn’t the answer (although I would affirm that Jesus was not able to sin) but the delivery and result. I take it from Deut 6 that parental instruction is more than just cramming biblical data into a young skull full of mush but that the godly parent strives to teach their kids to know and love the truth so that they love the Author of truth. When Christ’s impeccability is questioned the answer is critically important but so is the effect of that answer on the heart/mind:

1) Will my answer solicit greater awe and wonder over the mystery of the God-man, Jesus Christ?

2) Will my answer promote Jesus as the only Savior from the penalty & power of sin?

3) Will my answer reveal Jesus as a perfect and merciful & sympathetic high priest?

All of this comes from the pages of Scripture but I want my children to want a Person more than a page (even though the Person comes by means of the page!).

Picking and choosing from Jesus’ commands (pt. 2)

[see the Jan 27 post for pt 1]

If I were a betting man I’d wager that BL is more concerned with the inconsistent application of Mat 5:27-28 than he is with inconsistent interpretation . However, interpretation will always have a bearing on one’s application so something should be said about the way we go about making sense of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5 especially since BL astutely observed that none of us are hacking off limbs in obedience to Jesus’ teaching on lust, theft, etc. What follows is the 2nd half of my response–again, w/ a few edits–to his questions/comments:

4) Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems to be an open & shut case when compared w/ the rest of Scripture. By tht I mean there just doesn’t seem to be any other passages that would add qualifications to what Jesus teaches. [The one exception would be what Paul says in 1Cor 7:15 but on that point Paul refers to “mixed” marriages whereas Jesus is speaking to covenant community.] Other passages that directly speak of marriage end up as a “yes…and” complement to Mat 5:31-32 whereas passages like Rom 13:1-4 create something of a “yes…but” contrast to the “don’t resist the one who is evil” of Mat 5:39. Consequently, Jesus’ divorce/remarriage command seems to have a greater across-the-board clarity than does His resisting evil command.

5) Biblical instruction can mix literal & figurative statements without forcing us to pit a literal interpretation against a figurative interpretation. Human language works that way all the time: “If you smart off to me or your mom you are breaking a house rule. It’s better to zip your lips than to have your rear end beat black & blue.” [even in that statement the “figurative” discipline (beat black & blue) refers to literal discipline (spanking)]

6) The over-the-top “tear out your eye” has to be considered w/ the rest of Jesus’ teaching on sin, righteousness, judgment. Would Jesus have us believe that physical maiming was a real way to escape sin & judgment? A radical approach to sin eradication is what Jesus means to address, but even gouging an eye out isn’t radical enough.

Picking & choosing from Jesus’ commands

The following is a portion of an e-mail exchange I had with a long time friend. Let’s call him B Lamb…actually Benjy L…better yet we’ll just call him BL to protect his identity. Anyway, BL’s questions surround a church’s seemingly arbitrary application of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5:27-45 (take a quick read for yourself if you’re not familiar w/ the passage). BL’s questions/comments lead off (italicized) w/ the first half of my response (w/ minor editing) following. The 2nd half of my response will follow in a subsequent post.

Why do we take the words about divorce so literally when we do not take anything else taught in that passage literally? No one cuts out their eye or cuts off their hands. We make promises all the time instead of just letting our yes be yes. We fight back against those that hurt us. And we kill our enemies instead of praying for them and doing good to them. But we have strict guidelines about who we allow to get married in our church based on this verse!?! So the only logical conclusion that I come to based on how we practice these verses is that everything Jesus taught in this passage was metaphorical except His teaching about divorce – that is literal.

1) Sadly, it’s easier to hold a literal interpretation on a teaching that doesn’t affect you personally. Many (most?) of us don’t think they have to worry about divorce so it’s easier to take a hard line there than on persecution, swearing, etc. where we’re more likely to be confronted w/ Jesus’ teaching in real life.

2) Christian obedience will always be a progressive work. To a certain extent I shouldn’t find it shocking to find inconsistency in our application of Scripture. Our objective is to commend Spirit-led obedience where it’s found and to challenge ourselves in those areas where we lack. The church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage/divorce can be used as a platform to promote greater fidelity to swearing & persecution teaching. (see, for example, Jesus simultaneously commending & convicting churches in Rev 2-3). As we commend & challenge we serve the church well to pray for a greater work of the Spirit to get our eyes wide open.

3) Cultural setting can affect how we interpret & implement certain commands. “Pray for those who persecute you” has a radically different meaning for a constitutionally protected American Christian when compared to an Afghan Christian. It can be difficult to chart a path for living out Christ’s commands when society affords me additional privileges and protections—especially when those protections are God ordained. In certain instances even Paul took advantage of civil law rather than take a beating or suffer a miscarriage of justice (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11).

Only fools worship an ass

1 Corinthians 1:18, 23a For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified…

Some think the earliest representation of worship involving a crucifix is contained in graffiti discovered in a guardroom near the Circus Maximus in Rome. Known as the Alexamenos Graffito and variously dated anywhere from the 1st to 3rd century, the graffiti is a crudely drawn picture with an inscription. The picture portrays a man standing at the foot of a cross with his hand raised in worship to the man hanging there. The man on the cross is drawn with the head of an ass and the inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

Jesus in 2D

In the course of a casual conversation a friend mentioned a book he was reading that had him rethinking his picture of Jesus [I haven’t read the book]. I don’t know how much my friend had read but at this particular point the projected image of Jesus was that of “playful”.

Certainly the author had read the Bible enough to know that no such description is applied to Jesus which is why, through a bit of spiritual extrapolation, he discovered “playful” Jesus by observing that Jesus spent most of His time with 12 other guys {exercise your sanctified imagination}. Along this line of thinking I would surmise other “proofs” could be found in Jesus’ love of children, his ability to tell a good story, and his use of sarcasm.

Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus smiled and laughed or that he was anything but a dour personality. However, I must admit a significant level of discomfort when I hear someone promoting a novel description of Jesus:

1. These new pictures of Jesus are akin to what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. That is, it gives the impression that previous generations of Christians were oblivious to some espoused truth that only now has come to light. Maybe there’s a reason why 1000s of years church teaching never saw fit to describe Jesus as “playful”. [just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how often reviews and blurbs of these novelty books invite the reader to “discover” this new truth which apparently had been hidden in previous generations]

2. New pictures frequently lack an appreciation for the distinction between the humiliated Son and the glorified Son. Consider that during the days of Jesus’ earthly humiliation John laid his head on Jesus’ chest (Jn 13:23) but when he saw the glorified Jesus John fell to the ground in fear (Rev 1:17).

3. New pictures–especially those that emphasize Jesus’ humanity–are colored almost exclusively by the Gospels rather than a broad reading of Scripture. At the very least this risks an imbalance in which Jesus’ humanity overshadows his divinity [I don’t think this is the normative impression one gets from reading the Gospels]. A full reading of the NT just doesn’t seem to lead one to the impression that Jesus is primarily a comfortable friend.

4. New pictures often speak where Scripture is silent. Closely related to #3, this practice usually comes by a narrow or selective reading of the Gospels. As narrative literature, the Gospels are rarely explicit on subjective details like facial expressions, tone of voice, inner motivation, etc. Consequently, readers often feel a certain freedom in applying his/her own spin on the unmentioned details.

Purveyors of these novel depictions of Jesus promise to deepen our love and respect for Him but I suspect that in the long run such pictures will diminish Him. Rather than marvel at His majesty we settle for sentimentality that is more flat than full.