I almost feel like one of those theologians you read about from days gone by. It’s like I belong to a burgeoning group the likes Lewis, Tolkien, Williams and Barfield, but that may be giving us way too much credit. All the same some of my friends in ministry and the like have begun to meet weekly and although we call it a book study we rarely stay on topic. Instead we end up delving into the depths of Christian thought and philosophy (at least as far as our capacities will take us) and have many conversations that shake us all to the core to help us answer some of the really tough questions of the faith. And that is what it always seems to come around to…faith.
A lot of us sitting around the table have been trained in some realm of postmodern philosophy.* The dominant philosophy of the postmodern era is built around a school known as deconstruction and was developed by Jaques Derrida. In deconstruction you question the presuppositions behind a particular belief statement until you are left with almost nothing…or in some cases nothing. And for the Christian tradition everything ultimately gets boiled down to one thing: faith. You see without faith we have nothing. That’s the beauty and the terror of our tradition. At the end of the day we can prove nothing upon which we stake everything (although experience often tells us differently through the power of the Holy Spirit ). Hebrews 11:1 puts it this way, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Even the words in Greek hint at how instrumental this pivotal juncture in our belief system is. The word for confidence is hypostasis which is best translated as a foundation built up. And the word for assurance iselegchos which is best translated as conviction. S0 are entire way of living is built upon our conviction of what we cannot see becoming truth.
I think sometimes the best way to figure out what things are really supposed to look like is to watch children. After all, Jesus did say, “ And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). Have you ever watched a child in true imaginative play? I mean when they really engage their imagination? All of a sudden there is no other reality other than the world of their play. They could be in a mall, a church foyer, a family get together, it really doesn’t matter where, you will not disrupt their new universe. And my favorite part is when you are asked to join in. All of a sudden you get this amazing invitation to lose yourself for a moment in a new world with limitless possibilities. Hmmm…maybe that is what the call to faith truly is. We are invited to lose our lives in a reality that may not make sense to those around us, but really is the only true reality. We can’t see it; we can’t prove it…it’s faith. But we are convinced and assured that this is the only real way to live and we live out this imaginative reality known as the kingdom of God assured that it is here and yet still to come.
May you find a new way to live out true faith in the midst of a world that thinks of you as holding on to nothing but child-like beliefs.
* I assure you that postmodern philosophy in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact it really is just a new spin on old ways of thinking that even date back to the time of Christ.
“Daddy! If we be good* will you bring us something home?” These were the words shouted at me across the lawn as I was getting ready to head off for work. Of course, being the gracious father that I am, I responded, “No way!” Don’t get me wrong. I love giving my boys treats and surprises, but to give them something for being good, for something that is expected of them…well that’s just not good parenting. Uh oh. I am in trouble now.
We often refer to God as our heavenly father. And rightfully so as that is part revelation of the Triune God. This imagery often even helps us in understanding a bit of who God is (this is not always the case for those who have never had a positive experience with an earthly father). And so it kind of led me to thinking about understanding God and our moral behavior here on earth. I think a lot of times that our earthly checklist of right and wrong becomes a ledger that we believe will eventually be fulfilled in heaven. But is it really a scorecard? Does God really want to reward us for being good…doing what is expected?
Kids have a fun way of seeing life. Essentially I think they see it as getting stuff. I get good stuff if I am good and bad stuff if I am bad. Come to think of it, I am not sure that we really grow out of this. Heaven and salvation become the good things we get when we are good and hell and damnation become the bad things if we are bad. But is that really why Jesus came? In John 10:9-10 we find these words, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Life in full…life to the fullest (I like the old school translation here)? If Jesus comes to give us life to the fullest doesn’t that imply a “now” kind of thing?
I look at it like this way. I love to do nice things for my wife. Not because she will in turn do nice things back, but because I love her (love being defined as a daily choice to put the other ahead of the “me”). If God is love and he has come to give us life to the fullest then wouldn’t that be the way we receive that life to the fullest. In other words, it is time to throw out the ledger sheet; for God, for others and even for ourselves. Being good becomes an outflow of the grace shown us. Not because of what we will receive, but because of who God is…love. May you learn to love today out of response and not out of expectation!
* There is still some grammatical education to be achieved.
Being the parent of a school age kid can be tough. I sometimes sympathize with my homeschooling brothers and sisters and their choice to shelter their kids at home. As I send off my soft-hearted kind little men into the belly of the beast known as public school I worry how much they will be broken…okay maybe that is over dramatizing it a bit. But there is some anxiety regarding whether or not my boys will come out unscathed and continue to be these innocent loving children that my wife and I have poured our lives into. What I do love about their educational experience though so far is the pick-up time at their elementary school. At the end of the day, the parents who are picking up their kids to drive them home or walk them home all file into the main lobby of the school. Then the students who ride the buses parade through this alleyway of parents who are smiling at them and anxiously awaiting their own progeny. Then after a little more waiting the finale takes place as your student(s) files out from the back hallways into the school to your smile and your waiting arms. It really is theis amazing little drama that plays out every day…and much like other things I see in life, it got me thinking.
Our faith is a faith based on heritage. We did not come to our belief in Christ on our own. Rather there was a mother, father, grandparent, aunt, uncle or close friend through which we were introduced to Christ. And in a lot of cases, the people who have led us to the throne or through whom our heritage in the faith has come have already moved from our presence into the presence of Christ. And I almost see it like that parade of parents at my boy’s school. Those who have gone on before are there with the Father. Encouraging the others as they come into the kingdom. Setting the example for us to follow. Cheering us on from the other side of glory. As Hebrews 12:1-2 puts it so well, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This communion of the saints that we affirm in our creeds is our parade of parents. And they can’t wait to see us there. And I am sure that there may be some worry or anxiety that the world might rob us of our innocence and our identity…but they hold true to the fact that we are here for a reason. We are Christ to the World and by our witness the parade will witness more and more come into the presence of Christ.
A British journalist once asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. Her answer, “I am not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.” Sometimes in the church in our Western culture I am not sure we recognize the difference. After all, look at the metrics whereby we measure church success: attendance, conversion, baptisms, confirmations, tithing measures, etc. All of these metrics seemed to be based on our success…and not necessarily our faithfulness. So I guess we have to ask ourselves how do we measure faithfulness.
Faithfulness is defined as ‘loyal, constant, and steadfast’ and in no way do any of these things indicate production. Production is something that requires toil and sweat. It is focused on the end goal and the results. In no way is it focused on the efforts made except to maybe to make the process more efficient in order to get results faster. But words like constant, steadfast…these don’t sound very efficient. So maybe, we don’t look at results metrics, but rather constancy metrics. Maybe we start to look at the lay-person who goes around mowing people’s yards without praise or compensation and who often flies under the radar. Maybe we start to look at the pastor who has served small congregations faithfully throughout the years but has never attracted too much attention otherwise. Maybe we start to look at the inner-city mission director whose efforts usually result in seeing the same ‘clients’ come through having failed yet again.
1 Corinthians 3:5-7 has another take on faithfulness altogether. ‘What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’ As a pastor I have always had trouble with this. What if people don’t respond to my message? What if I am not seeing my group grow? And then I started looking at my questions a little more. My? I? When did this become about me? I am simply called to shine the light on Jesus in a dark world. If I am doing my job faithfully, then God will be faithful. The results do not rely on me…they are dependant on God alone.
SO my question remains…are you worried about success or being faithful? Are you shining the light on Jesus or is the spotlight on your ‘efforts’ and your ‘results’? I am not sure about you but I want to hear, ‘Good job. You were a good and faithful servant’. I just can’t imagine hearing, ‘Way to go you. You were more concerned with your successes than mine’. May we re-examine our motivations in light of all of this.
So often as Christians we think we have to know all the answers, have it all together, be ready to give a defense to anything and everyone that comes our way. But sometimes this can be a bit daunting. Especially when we feel like we don’t know all the answers, we don’t have it all together and we would be terrified if we actually had to give voice and defend our beliefs. But don’t fret. You are not alone. In fact, for years, great theologians and thinkers have struggled with the issue of doubt and faith and how to reconcile the two. I think Douglas John Hall defined it best when he said that “faith is a dialogue with doubt.” So often we think that we are not allowed to have questions or doubts in our faith journey when in actuality this is just part of the journey.
Take for instance the man who came to Jesus in Mark 9 longing for his demon-possessed son to be healed. Jesus responded to the man that anything is possible if you believe. The man’s response, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” We have to come to realize that our faith is a dialogue with our lack of faith. Sometimes we have to search for the words and expressions that give meaning to our faith and our doubts. We know that we do believe in Christ, we just want Him to help us with our unbelief along the way. So maybe the next time you feel as if you don’t have the answers, you don’t have it all together, and you are worried that you can’t give voice to your faith…confess your belief and ask God to help you with your unbelief.
So I know that sometimes it seems all the rage to do something like a blog and maybe I am jumping on this bandwagon way too late, but yes, Andrew Arp now has a blog. And I suppose the question that comes naturally now is why. Why a blog? Why are you just now jumping on this overly used media outlet? And I think the answer is actually quite simple. I want to add my voice to the discussion.
One of the greatest parts about belonging to the Church today is that you are a part of a 2,000 year dialogue. Some of it good and some of it not so good, but all the same it is a continuing conversation. As a Pastor I feel all too often we are content to simply let our voice just join the great chorus of those who have served and not enter into the discussion that is taking place all around us. We are called to become advocates for the truth and relevance of scripture in today’s world. So that is why I am jumping into this vast universe of blogs. Maybe some will take not, maybe not…but this is becoming a platform for my voice.
So what will this new blog look like? Well hopefully the title will point towards the theme. This is not meant to be a prideful rant of a young Nazarene Pastor who is sometimes tempted to enter the conversation with both guns blazing. Instead it is a study. Maybe a lifelong study of how I see the world and God’s actions in it as he is redeeming mankind unto Himself.
So here’s to hoping that this is a fun place for discussion on issues relevant to the Kingdom with maybe a bit of fun and humor thrown in…otherwise it wouldn’t be arpology.
Grace and Peace