Saturday, December 20, 2008

Living with Jesus

Simple words? Perhaps they are for those who have long enjoyed the experience of focusing on Jesus and not on anyone else or on anything else. However, for most people living with Jesus is either not attractive or if it is something to be desired, it is not as easy as simply saying the words three magical times.

We can only live for or with Jesus if he comes to us and makes his home with us. Day after day I find myself asking him to come and live inside me. I think that's what I want although I'm not sure if once he comes and stays with me, I'll realize it or even if I will find that it's what I thought his constant presence would be like.

The nicest compliment anyone could ever give me would be to say that I reminded them of Christ. I'm not sure I could handle such a compliment. I have a hard enough time handling compliments of any kind. That one in particular would probably break any Christ connection I may someday have.

Now that I think about Christ-like people I've met, my mind comes to one particular pastor who was the kindest and most devout person I ever met. I would mention his name, but I think it best not to do so in case he's reading this and by my stating such an opinion it would either send him to his knees or would sever the Christ connection for a bit until he confessed his sin of spiritual pride.

Perhaps it is better not to think so much about whether or not one is Christlike. Better to think how unChristlike one has been and how we are in dire need of his transforming grace to make us not self-conscious about our Christlikeness, but obsessed with Christ and fellowship with him.

Suddenly I think of Christ on Earth and what he thought of himself. Did he consciously think about wanting to become more Godlike? Did he see God in himself? Did others tell him that he was the most Godlike person they had ever met? I think not. Jesus was probably not self conscious about things like that. He might have lived his life as naturally and as unself-consciously as we live our lives. For him to have lived it otherwise is unrealistic. Jesus was as sane as you or I. He didn't think more of himself than he had to. We should do the same.

(I wonder if the Adventist Review would be interested in an article like this one? It sounds so safe and non-controversial. I've often wanted to write an article for the Review, but I can never quite leave out controversial bits and pieces. Now that I've proofed it I realize that I'm probably incapable of writing an article that would fit the mold. So much for my passing desire to write for the Adventist Review.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christianity is mystical, by nature

Other words instead of mystical might be transcendent, otherworldly, mysterious. Ellen White used the word mystic* to describe the ladder in Jacob's dream that reached from Earth to heaven. I feel comfortable then, using a word that some traditional folk might not like to use about Christianity.

What I mean is that it takes a lot to believe in all these non-tactile realities and historical occurrences. Rationally speaking it makes no sense. But reason is not always the most important reality in the world; or it need not be.

This dawned on me as I drove home in a cool afternoon without any cares in the world. This was in spite of the fact that I had just spent $900 to have new wheels put on my car and other automobile expenses. Where was I going to get that money to pay down the credit card bill? I didn't care. I would let God take care of that essential expense. Worrying about it was not going to pay it off any faster. God knows I had to have those tires and the other parts that were defective. He knows, also, that I need to find the funds to pay off this negative cash flow expense.

Back home, I spent what I thought was going to be only 30 minutes reading about the Christian life, but I got so engrossed in the experience that when I looked at the clock, almost two hours had come and gone. I wanted to continue reading more of Steps to Christ, but I realized that I had other things to do before Sunday became Monday morning.

I had been invited to a Christmas party--the only one this year so far. I was unsure of whether to go as there was going to be alcoholic drinks there and other non-Christian influences that may or may not turn out to be deleterious to my experience. I prayed about it and decided that that was one party that I was better off not attending. Now, it might have turned out just fine, but I felt moved not to take a chance. Instead I spent the afternoon reading and meditating about God's amazing grace. That defies reason in most people's minds. I does in mine.

There's no other explanation other than that Christianity is mystical. How else to account for spending good quality time on a Sunday afternoon reading Steps to Christ when so many other things beckoned?

* mysterious: having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond ordinary understanding; ". . . someone who believes in the existence of realities beyond human comprehension

Friday, December 12, 2008

Making Sense of Life

Lately I've been reading about whether it's possible to see life as both the outcome of evolution and God. Or rather, whether it's possible to believe in evolution and still believe in God.

No Christian wants to let go of God altogether by embracing evolution as the only explanation for our presence on Earth.

As I read about and ponder these polar opposites, I sometimes look out on civilization and am amazed if only evolution is the explanation for the reality of the human brain. If that's the case, it defies explanation that so much complexity was the result of millennia of humankind's efforts. Our technological and cultural accomplishments are truly mind-boggling. Our potential for future achievements are equally astounding.

If God is responsible for evolution, then he is, alas, not the kind creator of the Bible. Evolution is successful only though violence and death. In no way can a committed Christian attribute these to God in spite of the fact that some Bible texts seem to attribute death and destruction to God under certain extreme situations, e.g., the Flood story and the final destruction of the impenitent.

What then to do about the conflicting demands of faith versus evolution? Would further study and reflection about evolution as the answer to our origins draw one closer to the God of the Bible or away from him? Unfortunately or fortunately, I find that the more I study about evolution and its survival-of-the-fittest motif, the more I want to get closer to God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. I need to suspend belief in the evidence of evolutionary history as that is the only way to continue believing and benefiting from a life time of approaching the God of the Bible.

I'm not saying the world was necessarily created in 6,000 years. I'm not saying that life isn't filled with too many mysteries to completely solve. I'm not saying I've finally arrived at the best situation that will resolve all these perplexing theories and their competition for my attention.

What I am saying is that I want to continue believing in God. Even more importantly, I want God to continue believing in me. The reason for this is that only as God continues believing in me will he continue helping and blessing me. For these realities I am very grateful. If only evolution were as kind then I'd love it in all its benign aloofness.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Loving the Sabbath, Hating my Sinfulness

All week long I wait for the Sabbath with such wistfulness that when it finally comes I realize that I longed for it too intensely. Now that it has finally arrived, I take it for granted and am aware of my confinement. I cannot do what I want to do. There are only so many activities or thoughts that are allowed to me on this holiest of days.

As the sun set I worried about the many details of keeping the Sabbath holy. I decided not to worry about the details of Sabbath keeping, but rather, to focus my attention on my relationship with Christ. Let Christ take care of how I keep the Sabbath holy.

I can worry about whether the house is ready for the Sabbath; it is not; it rarely is. I can worry about what I'm going to do when I am not in church and the Sabbath hours find me, once again, on my own with too many hours to experience while it is still Sabbath.

You have to admit, the Sabbath is--pardon the expression--the oddest of all the commandments. For example, today I thought that if I purposely delay my observance of the Sabbath by a minute or 10 or 60, have I invalidated the remaining 23 hours of Sabbath still in play? Unlike the commandment to not kill, steal, take God's name in vain, etc., once you break those commandments, you have broken the entire commandment and not just part of it. But the Sabbath, you see, is one long 24 hour experience. You are then able to break it or observe it once an hour, or perhaps more than that or less than that it you are careful. Or should one foolishly decide that since you've already broken it by not starting it on time or by breaking it half way into it, it is pointless to try to keep the rest of the hours that remain? Some may find the thought improper; others simply practical.

This can't be what God had in mind. Before the Sabbath begins I ask God to make me holy so I can keep his Sabbath holy. I also ask him to fill me with his Spirit and move me to keep his Sabbath holy, and for that matter, to keep all his commandments holy.

I don't know if I've ever really kept the Sabbath as one is supposed to keep it. I'm sure that even in the midst of no work, no play, church all day, or charitable visits to nursing homes, etc., I could very well have been breaking the Sabbath at the same time that I was, with good intent, trying to keep it.

Violations of all the other commandments are truly grotesque violations of some spiritual or basic human value, e.g., respect for one's God or one's fellow human being. But the Sabbath is a different concept all together.

I'm suddenly reminded of a church member who was so concerned about violating the sabbath by being awake during most of it--I guess he knew himself quite well--that he'd go to bed after church so as not to be conscious during the rest of the 7th-day Sabbath. Judging from the sister who told us about it, his intentions were sincere. However, by not engaging in more useful activities during the Sabbath, he was, in fact, breaking the Sabbath. Still, one does spend eight hours sleeping during the normal sleep period of the Sabbath, so why not sleep for the rest of the non-church part of it. I'm just trying to understand this brother's fear of breaking the Sabbath.

I used to feel that after I had spent half an hour or so reading the bible, I could open up my Sabbath post-vesper experience by engaging in cultural and spiritual activities like listening to symphonic music, or watching thoughtful DVDs about stimulating topics. Lately, I find myself unsure of these activities and usually spend the rest of the post-vesper Friday night Sabbath either reading the Spirit of Prophecy, reading the Bible until I get sleepy, or watching the local Christian network, Trinity Broadcasting Network. Sometimes that puts me to sleep, as well. I don't mean its content does, but rather the passiveness of these activities invites sleep quicker than a run in the park would. Of course, the park is deserted at this hour, except for hoodlums and such, so I use that example as an extreme example of a healthy, life-affirming activity on a Sabbath's Friday evening.

Or I can spend the entire Sabbath blogging, as I am now doing, and perhaps that will solve the problem for an hour or so.

Sometimes, though, PBS, has wonderful religion programs. Of course, most of them are pretty liberal, but it's religion, nevertheless. The History channel has a show on Friday nights about Extreme Survival in nature. That's so painful to watch, that I seldom fall asleep watching it.

Oh that God would have mercy on me and enable me to keep the Sabbath without being self-conscious about it. How wonderful if I could offer a Sabbath full of devotion by keeping the Sabbath enjoyably, and finally, lovingly. Amen.