Friday, May 25, 2012

The Suicide and the Martyr

G.K. Chesterton has long been one of my favorite authors. He was a British writer during the early 1900s and his writing had a huge influence on C.S. Lewis. Recently I have been rereading Chesterton's book Orthodoxy. If you haven't read it, it is well-worth your time.
As I read last night, this section stood out to me:
Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe. 
This section did not hit me because I had been contemplating suicide (I hope you haven't either), but it did hit me because it brought up a significance question: Where have I set my heart? The suicide sets his heart completely on himself. The martyr sets his heart outside of himself. Which one do I most resemble?
Self-love is right at the center of sin. We replace God and put ourselves on the throne. We live completely for our own interests, our own advancement, and our own satisfaction.
This certainly sounds arrogant and selfish to us, but, in a way, it also sounds reasonable. After all, if I don't care about me, who will? I am me, and therefore I should be most concerned with my money, my family, my retirement fund, my education, my reputation, and my relaxation.
But God calls us away from self-love not simply because it robs him of his rightful place on the throne (although it certainly does). He calls us away from self-love because it is slavery. We think we will find freedom and life through being consumed with ourselves. We will not. We will experience such isolation and despair that we will be miserable.
And it is all a lie anyway, because we can never be our own god. We think we are coming up with our own ideas when we are self-consumed. They are not our ideas. The enemy came up with those ideas long ago. Just read Romans 6:1-14. When we sin through self-love, we are never the ones in charge. We are slaves, and God calls us to the freedom of losing ourselves in Christ.
I hope you're not contemplating suicide. But I hope we will all contemplate martyrdom. Not in the sense that we seek our persecution and alienation from the world. But in the sense that we are so consumed with Christ and the freedom that he gives, that we joyfully lose track of the self-love that would bring us into miserable slavery.
Luke 9:24: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Josh Hamilton vs. The Super Apostles

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul takes on some opponents to the gospel. Their message is that God is with them because they are impressive. They are good speakers, good-looking, and have good resumes. They have been telling the Corinthians to listen to them, to side with them, because God has empowered them to be impressive. Paul sarcastically refers to his opponents as "super-apostles."
Today's super-apostles certainly include the ranks of most Christian athletes.
I am a huge sports fan, but I often find myself frustrated with athletes who attach God to their accomplishments. He is a sort of talisman to them. They pray to him and give him glory. He gives them victory over their opponents. After their victories, like the super-apostles, they proclaim that others should worship their God because God has made them impressive and powerful.
* Just for the record, I am not talking about Tim Tebow. There seems to be an inaccurate impression that he believes that God makes him successful because of his faith. People miss the fact that Tebow honors and thanks God when he loses, and shows dignity and class while doing so.
Back to this post.
Josh Hamilton, impressive as he is (an American League Most Valuable Player award and back to back World Series appearances), proclaims a different message. He sees the same gospel that Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians: Power in weakness.
Josh Hamilton made history on May 8th by blasting four home runs in a single game. He is only the 16th player in Major League history to accomplish this feat. But Josh is known not only for his accomplishments on the field, but also for his struggle off the field.
Josh Hamilton is a recovering addict.
After being drafted #1 overall in 1999, a string of injuries and failed drug tests almost took him completely out of baseball. Since his successful resurgence with the Texas Rangers, Josh has had a couple of relapses. To his credit, he has taken responsibility for this instead of making excuses.
On April 26th, about two weeks before Hamilton exploded into the record books with his four home runs, he was a guest on The Dan Patrick Show (you can still find the interview on the third hour of that day's podcast). Most of the interview focused on the Rangers and Josh's baseball career. But the end of the interview got personal. Dan asked Josh what it is that has led to the relapses. Josh's response was, "When I take my power back, instead of relying on my relationship with Christ. . .more times than not, I'm heading down a path that I don't want to go."
The significance of this should not be passed over too quickly.
Josh Hamilton does not see God the way the super-apostles (or super-athletes) see him. To them, God is someone who provides them with power to surpass the accomplishments of others. To Hamilton, and the Apostle Paul, God is someone who shows his power by carrying weak and impressive people to victory.
If we buy the gospel of the super-apostles, then we will believe that others will come to Christ by seeing him empower strong people to surpass others in business and academics and athletics and morality. If we buy the true gospel, the one Josh Hamilton embraces, then we will believe that others will come to Christ by seeing him empower weak people to humble victories that can only be explained by a supernatural God.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Are We All Breaking Bad?

The critically acclaimed television show Breaking Bad begins with a normal high school science teacher and family man named Walter White living an average suburban life. The show then follows Walter as he begins to make destructive decisions ("breaking bad" is a saying that refers to someone who is making poor choices). This average person slowly but surely makes compromises and justifies his actions. Sometimes his decisions are so extreme that they are only believable because of the deep inner turmoil that is evident in the character. On the one hand, he knows that what he is doing is wrong. On the other hand, he finds ways to sear his conscience so that he can avoid condemning himself.
The reason the show is so powerful and relevant is that those of us who are average suburban Americans have a hard time separating ourselves from Walter White. He's a normal person who loves his family and tries to make a living. We want to look at his actions and condemn him as evil, but we see too much of ourselves in him.
Breaking Bad brings out a profound truth about the darkness of humanity. We like to believe that there are good guys (us and our friends) and bad guys (drug traffickers, pimps, and lawyers). We like to believe that we may be capable of small sins (lower case "s"), but that only evil people are capable of really bad Sins (murder, rape, exploitation, oppression). As much as this belief seems appealing, it is in no way biblical. The biblical truth is much more dark and grim (and much closer to Breaking Bad than to the normal Christian perception).
Most Bible believing Christians have a hard time with the fact that the Bible teaches that all people are broken. The Bible teaches that this brokenness not only refers to the fact that we are victims, but to the reality that we are also victimizers. We are both the oppressed and the oppressors.
In Matthew 7:11 Jesus casually referred to average fathers as "evil." Romans 3:9-20 is a grim passage about the utter wickedness of humanity. Jesus himself said that no one except God should even be called "good" (Matthew 19:17).
Despite this, we routinely refer to ourselves and others as "good persons." And when we're accused of doing something wrong, we respond with phrases like, "What kind of a person do you think I am?" and "How could you think that about me?" and "I would never do that!"
These phrases reveal that in our heart of hearts we don't embrace the biblical teaching about our own darkness. We still think we aren't capable of the really bad sins. This thinking will lead us down the roads of denial and self-justification. After all, these roads are necessary to reach the destination of pronouncing ourselves "good persons." This thinking also leads us to revel in our own "goodness" and despise others for being so "bad."
On the other hand, when we embrace what the Bible says about our own brokenness (a painful reality), some wonderful things begin to happen. For starters, we begin to revel not in our own goodness, but in the grace of God that Jesus bought with his precious blood. We also begin to rely more completely on God's daily grace and help as we look to say "No" to the slavery of sin and "Yes" to the freedom that God brings. And on top of this we begin to see the broken people around us as people who are in need of the same grace that we need.
We make a significant mistake when we underestimate our own potential for evil. When we do this, we put ourselves in danger of denial and self-justification. And we also miss out on the joy that comes with coming face to face with our own wickedness and seeing God love us through it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Parenting: In for the Long Haul

This past week provided some great reminders to me about the long-term nature of parenting. Like anything else in life, there are good parenting days and there are bad ones. There are days when the kids are polite and responsible; on those days you feel like a successful parent. There are also days when the kids are rude and whiny; on those days you feel like a failure. After some days that made me feel like I had this parenting thing down, I experienced some days that made me feel like my kids were a lost cause (slight exaggeration).
It's hard not to overreact when it comes to parenting. We love to post videos and photos and updates of our kids finest moments, whether they be academic or athletic or social. And when our kids fail in any of those areas, it is hard not to despair and worry about their future. We react strongly to the ups and downs of our children for at least two key reasons. The positive reason is that we love our kids and we care deeply about how they will turn out. The negative reason is that we find much of our identity in being "good" and "successful" parents. When our kids behave poorly we feel that identity being threatened.
As is true of all areas of our development, our example is God. He is the ultimate parent. Within the doctrine of God, we see Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And God the Father is not only the Father to the Son, Jesus Christ, but also to all who have embraced Jesus. Like us, God is deeply concerned about how his children will turn out. Unlike us, he does not feel his identity being threatened when we behave poorly. He knows who he is.
When I think of what it means to follow God's example in parenting, one concept has stood out to me: God parents his children with their long-term good in mind.
Hebrews 12 speaks profoundly of God's parenting approach. Verses 10 and 11 bring out God's long-term perspective: "They [our human fathers] disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines  us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
Key points:
1. God disciplines us for our good. He doesn't just discipline us in a way that he hopes will improve us. He knows how to discipline us for our good.
2. God's discipline bears fruit if we are trained by it. It is not just so that he looks good as a parent. It is not just so that he can reinforce the fact that he is in charge. He disciplines us in a way that brings us closer to the joy of sharing in his holiness. . .if we respond rightly.
We can't control how our kids respond to us. Our kids will bring us moments of overwhelming joy and they will bring us moments of overwhelming pain. We must have a long-term view in mind; otherwise we will be exhausted from the emotional highs and lows.

We must discipline our children with patience and perspective. We must persevere in directing them away from enslaving self-love and toward life-giving love for the Triune God. Parenting is a long-term project. We can't do it well without God's power flowing through us. But when we are led by him, and when we adopt his long-term perspective, we can experience peace and guidance through the high calling of parenting.