Category Archives: God
I had another tough question come in from a friend and spent some time turning it over this morning. I figure if he’s asking, the answer might be useful to someone else too, so to you, dear reader, I offer my response as well:
Your question was, “Can you explain ‘He gives and takes away?’ Since God doesn’t punish, what might he take away?”
That’s a heavy question. It hits a lot of people on a very personal level. It’s also not one that I can give a short, pithy answer to. Although I’m not sure I’ve ever given a short, pithy answer to a theological question. They’re usually wrong.
So, rather than give an answer, I’ll share a bit of thought process.
First, there’s an assumption in the question that God doesn’t punish. There are definitely times in the Bible that God does actively punish, although it’s usually on a national level rather than an individual level. There are some times that God does actively give or bless people in scripture. Let’s hold that in an open hand for a minute.
Second, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” is from Job 1:21. The context of Job is a drama that teaches Jewish people how to respond to struggle and pain. As Job says this, he’s just had three servants come and tell him that he’s lost everything he owns and his family is dead. Job’s response is to acknowledge that he didn’t come into the world with anything, he won’t leave with anything, and God is sovereign over all. He’s saying, “It wasn’t really mine anyway.” This is true. When he says that God took it away, though, he’s wrong. According to the narrative he’s not aware of (irony), Satan took it away with God’s permission as a test – some sort of celestial bet, although God gives permission. So within the immediate context, the statement, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” was wrong, and basing theology off of it is dangerous – as dangerous as basing theology off his friends’ statements that what was happening was his fault and God was punishing him (which was still a very common belief in Jesus’ time).
Third, people want to reduce theology to the simplest possible, most easily digestible form. They want black and white; always and never. What we see in the whole of scripture, though, is “sometimes.” For those who want consistency and certainty, it’s easiest to say “consistently, certainly sometimes.” God is God, and he’s allowed that. What we see is that sometimes God does give. Sometimes God does take away. Most of the time, he lets stuff happen and leaves his justice for later.
So the statement he gives and takes away is accurate. Sort of. Sometimes.
The greater truth is in the heart attitude behind it, though. We remember that God is sovereign. Everything that we have, whether given actively or inherently is from him. I tremendously enjoy the air he gave me to breathe this morning. Someday I’m going to stop breathing it. I go. Everything I have goes. God remains. God is greater than me. God is greater than my stuff. The mini-lesson found in the following verse, what the audience is supposed to get, is that even though Job thinks God is actively responsible (he’s not) is: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
It’s a statement of peace. It means that whatever our circumstances are, God remains, and we find our worth and being in him. Growing resentful or angry at him for our circumstances is sinful. Worshiping him in the midst of pain is glorifying.
What we should be saying as we echo that statement is that it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. God is God and God is Good. He doesn’t stop being God in hard times. It’s what Paul echoes in Phillipians 4:11-13 – “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
So maybe it’s God’s fault and maybe it isn’t. Maybe stuff just happened and he didn’t stop it. We still worship, though, because worship isn’t about us and what we have. It’s not transactional. It’s conversational. It’s relational. It’s about who he is and who we are in him.
I hope that answers your question. If not, bug me more. I’m cool with that.
I haven’t been feeling particularly moved to “blog” lately, but if anyone has any honest questions – not “heh-heh what about this” questions with the intent of trying to trip me up, but honest questions seeking answers, head over to the contact page. I’ll be happy to make posts from them and leave your name out of it.
I haven’t written for a while. Excuse me while I ramble for a bit.
Each morning (well, most mornings… sometimes afternoons… sometimes I skip it because I’m busy or lazy or in a mood or whatever), I dig into JD Walt’s Seedbed Daily Text. I highly recommend it as a Biblically rich devotional written by a servant of God with a broad intellectual skillset and the heart of a poet.
We’re in the Gospel of Matthew right now, as John the Baptist cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near!” As I process some of my thoughts on his thoughts on God’s thoughts, I’m going to piggyback on some of what he said this morning. I’m just saying that this is mostly me, but he deserves credit (or blame, if you disagree) for the direction and it’s only fair that he get it. If you want to catch up, this particular devo is permalinked here.
Way back in the day (colloquially speaking – it was actually an evening), my youth pastor taught one of many lessons on repentance. This one stuck with me for a number of reasons. First, because it was a time in my life that I was in a weird tension that a lot of Christian teens go through… I had “given my life to Christ,” but had developed excellent compartmentalization skills. I’d given the part of my life that went to church and youth group to Christ, but the part of my life that smoked pot and was committed enough to take the time to download porn on a 28.8k modem and other bad stuff remained firmly separate. The tug of war that ebbs and flows and never seems to quite stop completely was at a high point, and I knew that I needed to “repent.”
I mean, I’d pented at least a few times before, and it obviously hadn’t stuck, so I apparently had to do it again.
Repent is a powerful word. It’s explosive, just in terms of its sound. It gains momentum coming off the lips, pulsing out in a way that leaves an impact. It hangs in the air waiting for a response. Even if you’ve heard it a million times, it sits there, slapping at your conscience, demanding acknowledgement, even it it’s just to turn it away again.
It’s also foreign to our modern language. It’s become the exclusive domain of religiousity, and so, while demanding, its also somewhat amorphous and confusing.
The second reason that his lesson sticks in my memory is that he gave a pithy, one sentence definition of repentance that was easy to grasp. He said that, “Repentance is a 180 degree turn from where you’ve been going,” and had kids demonstrate in an object lesson by walking in a straight line across the room and when he yelled, “Repent!” they’d have to turn around and go back in the other direction. It was a good lesson. It was simple and to the point and something a teenager could understand. And so I repented.
And no matter how many times I did that about-face and turned 180 degrees from where I was going, my course would slowly wander and I’d find myself heading back exactly the way I had been.
Because he was wrong.
And I was wrong when I taught the same thing.
The problem with viewing repentance as a 180 degree turn from the way you were going is that it still focuses on you and the way you were going. It’s like trying to drive by looking in the rearview mirror. It’s appealing to a self-absorbed, self-addicted people because it maintains our self direction – even if we’re directing ourselves by not going somewhere. It’s our direction – anchored by our former direction – dependent on our vision and our conscience and our experience. Our new direction is entirely dependent on our old direction. That doesn’t work well.
The whole idea of trying to navigate by going away from something is just profoundly stupid. And that’s kind of what John is saying.
The good news is that the true point of navigation is near. It’s not ephemeral. It’s not abstract. It’s among us now.
Yes, repentance is a firm re-orientation, but it’s not reorienting away from something, it’s changing direction to move towards something. As long as we’re moving towards it, it doesn’t matter what we’re moving away from. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what we’re inclined to drift towards. It doesn’t matter what we… what we… what we… what I.
It matters what God.
Repentance isn’t about us. It’s about him. It’s about Emmanuel. It’s about God With Us. JD says it better than I can:
To be clear, behaviors will change but that change will come from a far deeper place than mere compliance with the rules. It will come from the deep wells of our transformed dispositions, affections, desires and from the Holy Spirit inspired dreams of the beautiful, good and powerfully loving lives we were created to live. To repent means to realign our entire lives to become the remarkable kind of people Jesus would be if he were you and me. Repentance does not start with a stinging self examination of our shame-filled selves. No, it begins by beholding the face of God in Jesus Christ, inhaling the Holy Spirit breathed Word of our own beloved-ness and exhaling the breathtaking beauty of the now-appearing-all-things-are-possible Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s probably enough for today. I’m not done thinking about it. It feels important.
Because there’s something in me that needs to be pent. It needs to be contained and constrained and confined because it has its way with me in a way I don’t like and I don’t like myself when it does. I’ve pent it. I’ve repented it. I’ve repented it again. The only way it’s going to stay pent-up is if God does it. To stop moving away and move towards. To stop being defined by it and get a new definition.
So that’s my prayer for me this morning. It’s my prayer for you. That we be defined not by our failing, but by our calling – by the one who succeeded on our behalf. That we be defined not by what we don’t want to be, but by what we were made to be, and the one who made us. That we be moving towards the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
“Mercy triumphs over judgement,” says James. This is not to say that mercy eliminates judgement, or that which is to be judged is no longer worthy of judgement, but that after judgement comes mercy.
Judge. Judge rightly, and with justice. Know the difference between right and wrong — righteousness and disregard. Dig a deep hole, and pour that judgement into it. Dig it deep enough to fill it to the brim! Once you’ve poured it all out, look at that pool of judgement and admire the rightness of it. Feel confident in it.
Then cover it with mercy.
Spread the mercy on thick. If you don’t have any of your own to put on there, pray for it. It should come from the same place your judgement does, or else your judgement isn’t righteous; it’s self-righteous. Keep adding mercy until the judgement stops seeping through. Keep tending it until something new starts to grow from its fertile soil.
In the end, the judgement is still there, but all anyone should see is mercy.
Put in another way, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”
It’s been a long time coming, but The Art of Being Broken will be available for purchase June 15, 2015.
Four years ago when I started writing it, this was a different book. I was a different person. In a way, I’m grateful for the 3 year hiatus my writing took while I was at Cornerstone Wesleyan. During that time, I published a book of devotionals for worship teams, which led praise teams together through the Gospel of John, prompting them to take a deeper look at their ministry together. That process gave me confidence in my writing, and helped me learn a lot about putting a book together for publishing. The experience was invaluable as I prepared The Art of Being Broken for print.
More than that, though, I grew as a person and a pastor. When I started writing this book four years ago, it had a very different focus. Really, it boiled down almost entirely to “Don’t be fake. If you’re messed up, be authentically messed up so that people can know the real you.” There is definitely still an element of that, but it evolved so much. Part of that was becoming convinced that God wants more for us than authentic brokenness. He wants to take our brokenness and turn it into holiness. He wants to take our wounds and mess and broken pieces and turn it into art that shows his grace and love to the world in a real, authentic way.
I’m not great at self-promotion. Most of the time, I have trouble seeing what I do as really good or valuable. This book though, I believe is excellent. That feels really weird to say, but I think that if you sit down to read it, you’ll find that it speaks to your heart. Maybe you’ll find God speaking to your heart through it.
What if everything isn’t fine?
What if there is life outside of our shells?
What if there is beauty under our masks?
What if there is healing beyond brokenness?
What if we could see the image of God in ourselves?
What if God’s art is made from our broken pieces?
In The Art of Being Broken, Aaron Mark Reimer opens up an authentic, sometimes awkward, occasionally hilarious, one-way conversation about our brokenness, the things we use to cover it, and the healing that can come through exposing it.
Last night a few guys from Cornerstone headed over to the theatre to check out the new blockbuster movie Noah and sat down over some (really excellent) food to talk about it afterwards. It was an interesting discussion. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to process, I’d like to take a minute to share a few thoughts on the movie and provide you with a couple of links if you’d like to dig in deeper.
Thar be spoilers ahead!
Some of the movie was strange and fantastical. The presence of “zohar” as some sort of spiritual mineral. The “watchers,” who are portrayed as angels that came to help mankind but were punished by being trapped in rock-bodies played a much larger role in the movie than I was expecting. Some of the pre-flood animals are just weird.
There are a lot of people out there that are very upset that Noah seems to diverge from or fill in what is given in the Genesis 6-9 account. They feel like the trailer gave a bit of a bait and switch. Where the trailer heavily implies Noah relying on God for help and protection, what he really has is an army of Rock Ents. They feel like there is radical and unjustified departures from the text for the sake of Hollywood film making. The issue is that the Bible’s Genesis account of the Flood isn’t the source material behind the movie.
This movie, for the most part, bypasses Genesis and goes to sources that the Early Church branded Gnostic heresies, or special mystical knowledge from Secret Religions like Kabalah (who’s primary text is called the Zohar, by the way). It reaches into the book of 1st Enoch for information about The Watchers, and even then takes them from being fallen angels who brought war to mankind and are awaiting due punishment to misunderstood benevolent martyrs who long to go back to heaven.
In short, the film makers did everything they could to take a story that Christians would be drawn to and make it about how human will triumphs over everything, and God, if he’s there at all, is silent. God is a monster. The snake is a hero that brings the blessing of wisdom and special knowledge to humanity. It’s a hot mess. The thing is, if you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss or dismiss. It’s relatively subtle compared to how BIG the action is.
After having watched it, I can say that I wholeheartedly do not recommend it. If you want to see it as a movie for its own merits, go ahead, but don’t go with any expectation that it’s about the Noah or the God of the Bible.
Continuing my Amplified Hymns (amplified as in expanded and made bigger, not as in plugged in and made louder), I’m digging in to an 18th century exploration of the awe that we hold for the process of God’s work for our redemption. If you missed the first one, it’s here.
1. Is it possible that I can have a part in blood payment my Saviour made?
Did he really chase after me, the one who caused his suffering, to the point of death?
What incredible love! How does it make sense that my God would give his life for me?
2. The greatest mystery of all is how someone immortal can die.
Can anyone fathom how God’s plan works?
Even the oldest of angels try and fail to understand how deep God’s divine love goes.
We’ve just got to accept that it’s pure mercy, everyone, adore him for it!
The angels will just have to watch how it unfolds.
3. Jesus walked away from power in heaven, freely and uncoerced.
His grace knows no limits.
He gave everything, retaining only his great divine love,
And let his blood flow out for a race of people that could never help themselves.
This ultimate mercy is both mind-blowingly huge, and available to all of us…
It must be, because, my God, it was offered to me.
4. It seemed like my soul was stuck in a prison,
It couldn’t get free of the darkness of all the things that break my relationship with You.
Then, a ray of light came from Your own eye and it was like I woke up,
the dungeon I was in lit blazingly bright!
All that held me down fell away, and my heart rejoiced,
I got up, came out, and followed You.
5. Even now, I have a small voice inside of me,
That whispers that my sins are truly taken away;
Even now, that blood price is still effective,
That took away the anger of a God who hates sin.
I feel the life that Jesus’ wounds give to me;
I feel him alive inside me.
6. Now I don’t have to fear being punished for my sin;
Everything that Jesus is has become my nature;
I live in Him, and he is my living guide,
Clothing me in his divine righteousness.
So, I approach the throne of God without hesitation,
And claim an eternal reward, through my Christ.
This one might be harder… I’m not sure. Can you name that tune?
Sometimes I like to think of myself as “mechanically inclined”. I love to take things apart. When I was a kid, if it had screws and I had a screwdriver, it had a good chance of being disassembled as far as I could make it go. Sometimes if it didn’t have screws, but looked like it should come apart, I’d make a yeoman’s effort at it anyway. I always wanted to get down to the nuts and bolts of things. Knowing that something worked, what it was for, how to make it work, those things weren’t enough. I wanted to know why it worked.
Of course, most of the time when I opened things up, the workings were more electronic than mechanical. I’d get as far as “the buttons push this lever, which presses on a doohicky, and that awakens the magical microscopic leprechauns.” The same leprechauns that keep airplanes aloft [You may think that you know why airplanes can fly, but look it up… the truth is that the physics don’t actually add up. Weird, eh?]. Unfortunately, I found that once it was apart, getting things back together in working condition proved much more challenging. I called it “learning”. Other people called it “breaking”. Whatever. In case you were wondering, that’s why I didn’t become a doctor.
AAAAnnnnyyyyway… let’s add that little tidbit in with the well established fact that I have a strong penchant for healthy debate [virulent rhetorical argument], and a basic theological education. The end result is that I wind up having pleasant online chats with other armchair theologians who hold different points of view, that occasionally only stop short of blows because they can’t feel it when I hit my monitor.
A lot of you won’t care about most of this post. It’s not an issue that a lot of people think or care about. Some people will love it. Some people will hate it. Such is life. Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a little Theology (study of God) 101: Outside of the Catholic/Protestant debates, the biggest split in Christian theology is between Calvinists and Arminians. If you’re a Christian, and don’t know which you are, I’ll tell you how to figure it out at the end of this post.
I’m an Arminian. My arguments with Calvinists often end with me repeatedly placing my head against my keyboard violently. I’ve actually (for the most part) stopped engaging in them. Why? I took the argument apart. From an Arminian point of view, an argument looks like a frank exchange of ideas; open and reasoned. I love that. From a Calvinist point of view, an argument looks like this:
And that’s stupid.
Some of you are laughing. Some of you are confused. This may help: The Calvinist world-view revolves around God’s sovereignty (ruling authority) and active, wilful control of everything. When I debate, after we burn through the stock arguments that each side comes equipped with, I try to sit back and process based on the premise their holding – give it a test drive, if you will. This is what I got from putting myself in the place of a Calvinist arguing with me:
God, in his sovereignty, has decided that we will meet this day. Leading up to this day, he has arranged our lives and controlled our beliefs that we might have a different view of him. He has brought us together at this point, so that he might force you to speak words that are untrue about him, and have me speak words that are true about him. He will make me very emphatic about this, and cause me to insinuate that he created you to be less than intelligent, although since the ability to process information is irrelevant when he decides everything we think or say, it has no bearing on the discussion. He will have me point out to you how wrong you are to believe the untrue things that he caused you to believe. Then he’s going to make you disbelieve the things that he’s made me say, and cause you to say things that might make me doubt my position, except that he ordained that I hold to these beliefs, and so I have no choice but to continue to do so. He will keep us arguing for a while, dictating the debate, and compelling us to hold our original positions because it serves his greater glory to be seen making two people contend over the issue before other people that he has willed either to agree, disagree, or not care at all, and as a witness to the people he has caused not to believe in him.
And then my head exploded.
I honestly can’t wrap my head around holding this position. It doesn’t make any sense to me [but that’s okay, because God willed it not to], and seems internally inconsistent [but it’s not. It only seems that way because God decided to make me not understand its consistency]. What gets me is how worked up Calvinists get about it. They’re pulling out scripture, they’re trying to make logical arguments, they’re giving experiential anecdotes. Some of them seem very proud of their ability to work through this all and present it to people. It’s as if they think that their ability is their own, or their effort their own, or even their words their own. Then they get angry if someone continues to disagree with them as if it’s not God causing the people they’re arguing with to say the things they’re saying and their emotions are controlled by something other than the direct will of God. It’s like they believe that either party has a choice in the matter. It’s like they’re Arminian.
So you can argue with me about this, but don’t get mad. God wills everything, ipso facto, It’s God’s will that I post this. In fact, he dictated it, so get mad at him – they’re his words.
I promised at the beginning of this post that I’d help the Christians reading this to figure out if they’re Calvinist Christians or Arminian Christians. Here’s the test: If God brought you to this page and caused you to get angry at the crap he just caused me to write, they’re a Calvinist. If you came to this page and got mad because I wrote stuff that was clearly both wrong and offensive to God and right-thinking Christians, you’re an Arminian that thinks you’re a Calvinist. If you either found this amusing and agreed with it, or thought it was boring and pointless, you’re an Arminian. Hope that helps.
From now on, instead of getting into the debate, I’ll just link them here.
It’s been a long time. Lots of stuff going on. Seems like the kind of stuff people would blog about. I’m not a good blogger, though… I don’t have deep roots in liveJournal. This isn’t a chronicle of my life, but a place to ponder the questions and formulate answers. Oh, one thing that should be mentioned (while I’m talking about me, and before I get to the point), is that a few months ago I started a new job as the Assistant Pastor (focusing on Worship and Youth Ministry) at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church. Therefore, it should be said that nothing I write here, have written in the past, or will write in the future necessarily represents the views of that or any other church. So don’t get mad at them.
But here it is… there’s this thing that’s been floating the net. It’s VIRAL (that’s a good thing, now). This guy named Jefferson Bethke posted a poetry slam about why Jesus and Religion are opposed… why he likes one and hates the other. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people are facepalming because they don’t see him ACTUALLY drawing a dichotomy between Jesus and Religion. The vast majority of people are completely indifferent, but no one on either pole believes that.
If you haven’t seen it yet, this is it:
Because of the people I have relationships with, I can’t get away from it. Or the responses to it. My various feeds are inundated with links to that video, or blogs supporting the video, or blogs disputing the video, or blogs and videos deriding the video. Lots of opinions; many of them insightful, many of them insipid. Some of them get hot at Bethke for bashing the church. Some of them get hot at Bethke for pushing Jesus. A couple of responses caught my eye and got passed along on my profile. One was from the Gospel Coalition [a gang of Biblical superheroes that seek to save the world in the name of orthodoxy as they know it… as you might guess, I find myself on opposite sides of many lines from them, but they had this one pretty together], and a video that a friend of mine found and posted showing a Roman Catholic (not catholic; that means everybody, but that’s not a rant for right now).
This is that video:
Sooooooo…. if you’re still with me, that probably means you haven’t watched the stuff here or read the link. That takes too long. Anyway, the surprise is that everything above was just preamble anyway; getting you up to speed for this post.
I’ve got a friend that messaged me shortly after I posted the “Catholic Response,” asking me: “Aaron – you agree with the Catholic video? “without the catholic church”? You are wiser than me (seriously) so what’s with the catholic bragging? YOur thoughts?”
That’s humbling. Thanks, man. You’re a more humble, gifted, motivated, and determined person than I am.
I’ve got my share of beefs with the Romans, but most of the really bang-your-head-against-the-wall stuff – the history that gets the church slammed – has been addressed in the last half century or so. Most people that bash it are more fashionable than in the know. I think that video response had a lot of good points, and the GC one posted above as well. Within the Church, so much of what we argue about comes down to semantics. Don’t get me wrong, semantics are important. It’s about saying what we actually mean to say, and providing sharp clarity to our positions. We need to be careful about the words we use, because words are heavy, and putting them in the wrong place can crush an argument. In this case, the argument is framed as being Jesus vs. Religion. The problem is that what Bethke calls religion isn’t the definition of religion. Now people coming to the defence of religion as they understand it are actually talking about something different than he was. A lot of people are just saying the same thing with different words. That annoys me.
Here’s a couple of Bible nuggets for you:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
In the first, Jesus clearly tells the “religious people” [that Bethke said Jesus hated, he might be right about that] that they should be continuing their religious practices while ALSO acting out the prescriptions of their faith in their relationships. Micah 6:8 says that what God required of his people was to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. That humble walk is the spiritual discipline that some call “religion”. I’m bad at it, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s really easy to elevate one over the other, the religion and the relationship, because different people connect to it in different ways – finding one easier than the other – but Jesus held them both in high esteem. The problem he had was when people thought that putting on a façade of obedience to God, while ignoring so many of the ways that he commanded [read: made rules about] his people to relate to the rest of the world, was somehow okay. In the second quote, an early leader in the church clarifies a definition of religion for Christians. He points out that caring for people IS religion.
So in response to Bethke’s initial question, “I’d say you’re wrong. He specifically said that he didn’t come to abolish the law. Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion, but to perfect it.”
I think my friend’s question had more to do with the laundry list of accomplishments that the video guy [he’s not famous enough to go find his name] credits to the Roman Catholic church, though. In a nutshell, some of it is right on. Some of it he’s crediting to the Roman Catholic church, but really should be “Christianity in general.” Some of it is pure ass-smoke. Without Catholics say goodbye to hospitals? That’s just dumb. Public education? Hardly an invention of the Catholic church. I think that what he’s trying to say, is that in the Western world, the Church has funded and supported these things to some extent throughout it’s history.
The flipside is that to some extent throughout it’s history, it hasn’t.
It’s really easy to get negative about the Church, about religion in general. We get known for our failures more than our successes; that’s a well-established fact. Another way of putting it was credited to an FBI official: “Our failures are public, but our successes are private.”
We feel bad about the crusades, about the inquisition, about the arguing, hypocrisy, financial and sexual abuse that the Church has rightly been charged with through it’s history. It’s worth noting, though, that the corrections to these things tend to come from the passionate religious within the Church, not from without. Still, ask an avowed athiest what he thinks of Christianity, this is what comes to mind. Catholic Dude’s right, though. The Church is the greatest force for Good in human history. It’s done more to feed the hungry, shelter the poor, and embrace the wounded, than any organization that anyone can name. Period. Yeah, there’s been bad, but to say that the bad has outweighed the good is to be ignorant of history, as well as what the Church is doing around the world right now.
The Church was called the Bride of Christ. How do you think Jesus feels when people talk smack about her? They’re gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do, bro.
Here’s the thing, though: Bethke never insults the Church intentionally. In fact, he says he believes in sin, loves the Church, and loves the Bible. What are people getting upset about, then? That’s religion.
Hey! Remember Mikey? The guy who rocks the rocker look and rocks out on a Jim Adkins Telecaster? The guy who’s kicking Cancer’s ass? You know him? I thought I did. I asked him to put together a guest post for me as I bang my head against a writer’s block and he comes back to me with this… This piece of… gold. Somewhere along the line, Mikey became wise. This post blessed my heart. I hope it does the same for you. Here it is. So, as many of you may have concluded [from Aaron’s introduction], I am not Aaron. My name is Mikey Fisher and I am a friend of Aaron’s and have been for over 10 years now. Aaron and I met in Bible College back in 2000, I was a groomsman at his wedding and if it weren’t for the current distance between our families we would certainly be hanging out on a far more regular basis. Aaron asked me a few days ago if I would be interested in submitting a guest blog on TAOBB and to give my thoughts on the theme verse (Psalm 51:17). Naturally, I was excited and more than willing to share my thoughts with the masses that frequent Aaron’s blog. I set about to work, and approached this writing in the same way I always do. I first looked up the verse in my bible, it reads,
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise”
I immediately began to conjure ideas of how to communicate what I wanted to say about sacrificing a broken spirit to God, but when I decided to read the passage in a few parallel translations of the bible I have found that a more accurate translation of the passage reads,
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A heart broken and bruised, O God, Thou dost not despise.”
In reading and rereading this passage in numerous translations and reading what different commentaries had to offer on the subject I have actually learned something. That’s not to imply that I typically don’t learn anything from scripture reading, not at all. It is meant to say that when one dives into a topic with reckless abandon and without preconceptions of what they want a passage to say, that person can find something far greater than their own notions. In this case there is not a huge difference between the first translation and the more accurate one. Excluding the ‘Thou dost’ issue, there is, I think, a key difference between the sacrifice that I offer, and the sacrifice that God is asking for. And that is the difference that I would like to focus on.
King David wrote this passage after being convicted of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba by the prophet Nathan. David was deeply moved in his own guilt and anguish when his sins of adultery and murder were laid out before him. This passage is the very moment when it finally clicks with David. He cannot simply light up an offering and put it on the altar and let that be good enough to appease God. What God desires from him is a broken spirit, a humble attitude that admits wrong and at the same time is repentant of that sin.
How often do we commit a sin and think to ourselves, “It’s okay, I’ll pray and ask for forgiveness on this one and then I’m good.” How often do we continue in this sinful behavior pretending to be repentant but actually being unremorseful of our own actions?
David did some pretty serious and horrible stuff in the story leading up to the writing of Psalm 51. He hurt many people, had a man killed and committed adultery. David understands when writing Psalm 51 that it’s not about the lip-service prayers we love to offer, God wants a broken heart, and broken spirit. Being remorseful and repenting of his sins is what grants him forgiveness. It’s not about admitting what he did was wrong, it’s obvious to everyone and especially to God that what he did was wrong. Its taking the next step, being truly sorrowful about the bad that he had done and taking that emotion to God and repenting, reaching deep into his soul and really meaning it. That is what it means to offer a broken spirit. To be humble enough to admit when you are wrong.
There are so many things that we do from day to day to try to score favor with God. We read our bible, we go to church, we play worship songs, but what we fail to see is that God is far more interested in what’s going on in our hearts, and far less interested about what we are doing externally. We can’t fool God. God knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine, so there is no use in pretending to be a changed person when we know in our heart that the sin we are committing is a sin we don’t plan on giving up.
What we need to do is follow the example of people like David. We need to reach deep inside and understand what we have done is wrong. We need to understand the sin we are committing, no matter how private it is, is not hidden from God’s eyes, and it is, despite what we sometimes want to believe, affecting our relationship with Him. We need to ask for God’s mercy and His conviction. We need to want to stop doing what we are doing and accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the forgiveness for that sin. We need to let Jesus mend the relationship between God and us. Most importantly, we need to be humble enough to admit we do wrong, that we aren’t strong enough to stop sinning on our own and that we need God’s help. We need to be repentant, not just in our words, but also in our hearts. This is where the forgiveness of sins becomes not just possible but real.
Jesus will free us of sin’s hold on us, and its power over us. God will send the conviction of the Holy Spirit reminding us that we don’t want to slip when we get into a dangerous place, and because of God’s love for us and our broken spirit, we can be free from the sin that has been holding us back.
God wants our broken spirit.
If you haven’t checked out Mikey’s blog, chronicling his journey with cancer, check it out at thisisawareness.wordpress.com. If you have, keep checking it!
He told me that the third installment is coming up in a very short time! The third installment of his story is up now! Thanks, Mikey.
I have a confession to make: I was in my high-school production of Grease.
Whew. That feels better.
I might not feel so lame about it if I actually had a real role, but I played Johnny Casino: a bit player in the stage show who didn’t even make it into the movie. Danny got Sandy. Kinickie got Rizzo. Johnny Casino sang a song at the high-school dance. No love for Johnny. The way I see it, in a show about teen love, any character who isn’t either in love, or helping the ones that are in love get together is an extra. You might as well be a talking prop.
Such is life.
I got an email last week from a youth pastor that was concerned with a post that one of his Grade 9 girls had put up as her facebook status. It was essentially a set of instructions for how a boy should treat his girl, with things like ” Tell her why you think shes so cool . . . Pick flowers from other peoples gardens and give them to her . . . Throw pebbles at her window at night. When she starts swearing at you, tell her you love her . . . Lend her your cds . . . Write on her . . . Kiss her in the rain. When you fall in love with her, tell her.”
He was concerned with the passion that was in this; the yearning to fall in love and be loved in return. He lamented her failure to grasp God’s love for her, and the ideology that seemed to say that she NEEDED to be in a relationship. He was asking for help getting through to her.
Of course, she didn’t actually write this. It’s a lesser known meme that’s been cycling around the net since about 2004. It’s viral. That means she saw it somewhere and grabbed it. Something about it pulled at her. Maybe the words settled into her mind like they were moving into a comfortably decorated room, all made up and waiting for them. Maybe she just recognized a glimmer of truth in them that tickled her fancy. Maybe she wanted to look wise. Whatever the reason, she decided share it with her online family.
The fact that it’s stayed alive this long, moving from host to host, though, shows that the sentiment is more symptomatic of our culture rather than the heart’s cry of one girl.
So then. Is he right to be concerned?
God’s love has never been a substitute for earthly physical love, but in collaboration with it. We aren’t just meant to be in community with God, but with each other. I am fully cognizant of the love God has for me. I know personally his covenant love and how he pursued me to the grave because of his great desire for relationship with me. I also need my wife. I was made to love her and she was made for me. God designed us so that in romantic relationship, his love would be reflected, and we would have a sense of completion; we would have someone on earth to represent his love to us. Is it wrong for a girl to desire that? Absolutely not.
The depth of that desire, though, and what she’s willing to trade for it is a very legitimate concern, because it stems from a warped perspective of love. It’s often used to fill a gap larger than it’s meant to. It fills the gap of absent or uncaring fathers, of abuse, of being left with feelings of inferiority and insignificance by the people that should love her most. It fills the gaping wound in her soul surgically inflicted by a media that pries us open with messages of incompetence and incompleteness and leaves us with a desperate desire to fill the artificial emptiness they create. She needs to hear early and often how wonderful she is, or she spends the rest of her life trying to get people to say it. We all do. This isn’t by any means just a “girl problem,” or even a teen problem. This is us. This is our life. The things that should be good enough aren’t. The things that should be sufficient aren’t. We aren’t enough. So we spend our lives looking for the things we’ve been told will make us better.
So many of the kids I work with have, by grade 7 or 8, reached a place where they’ve been taught that rather than having a committed and/or passionate relationship being a part of being loved, part of being a person, it’s the end all and be all. Being told of God’s amazing love doesn’t negate all that we’ve been conditioned with. More than that, a head knowledge of God’s love and all he’s done for us doesn’t necessarily translate into heart knowledge of it’s sufficiency. That takes time. It takes an act of God. We’ve got to keep telling them – we’ve got to keep telling each other; Not saying that we’re wrong to feel the way we do, because our self-esteem is damaged enough already, but to be there as God is, to continually and gently present the truth of his love, to water the seed and pray for it to take root.
Honestly, it drives me nuts when I see a facebook status go from “in a relationship” to “single” then back to “in a relationship” in less than 24 hours. It makes me want to take my head off and put it in the freezer when 2 hours after being asked out the kids are talking about how in love they are. If they’d ever actually been in love, they wouldn’t throw the word around so easily.
It makes me want to cry when a week later their world ends because they broke up.
Is it a problem? Yes. But it’s not THE problem. It’s a symptom of a culture that says our identities are found in others. That we’re only as good as other people think we are. As the things we have. As the money we make. As our status in our communities. It’s not going to stop because we say that’s wrong. It’s only when we understand the sufficiency of ourselves in who God made us to be that we can put that behind us. Then we can be the whole half of a healthy relationship here on Earth. Then we can see all that he intended earthly love to be.