Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Mud Room

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - a world away from rural America and the culture I now live in - Montana. There are many differences between eastern, city culture and western, rural culture. One of the main differences is pavement.

Our love affair with pavement on the east coast had left me totally ignorant of the concept of the mud room. After sixteen years (more accurately - sixteen spring seasons) I have learned plenty about this rural American phenomena.

And as I think about all of the nice houses I have been in I have come to a conclusion. The mud room is the least hospitable room in the house. There are shoes, boots, carharts, jackets, and yes mud all over the place. I pull my shoes off and get on out of that room as quickly as I can. Invariably, other people are also standing around trying to get their muddy shoes off and we are all bumping into each other and getting mud on each other - basically annoying the hell out of each other.

If you hang out for very long in the mud room you will notice that different people have different strategies for getting their muddy shoes or boots off. Some try to find a clean place to sit down, cleaning up a two foot square oasis of floor in which to deal with their muddy shoes without getting the rest of their clothes muddy. Some scrape as much mud off their shoes as they can onto the welcome mat and then continue into the house until the host politely asks them to remove their shoes.

My favorite method is the pogo stick. This is where we hop on one foot while trying to remove the shoe on the other foot and then repeat the process while trying to keep our sock out of the mud. I have seen some guests insist that they don't have any mud on their shoes at all. True or not, it's simple courtesy to take your shoes off in the mud room.

It's my contention that most Christian thought has spent all of its time in the mud room. We love to teach and talk about our battle with sin. We write books and hold seminars for the express purpose of dealing with all that is wrong in the world. Our fears revolve around moral failure, sexual deviancy and the polluting of our kids' minds.

If the kingdom of heaven was represented by a delightfully inviting mansion, filled with rooms for our care, our provision, and our intimacy with Jesus, it seems to me that the mud room, while necessary, would be the place I spent the least amount of time in. Why is the average Christian experience the exact opposite?

It's as if we think sin has more power than the cross. Maybe sin sticks better then forgiveness. If in Christ old things have passed away and all things have become new, if in Christ there is no condemnation at all, if God is not counting our sins against us, why do we spend so much time in the mud room?

Salvation, being born again, meeting Christ at the cross and trading him our sin for his righteousness is simply the entry point into the mansion. No one would want to live here, but we absolutely must pass through this room to enter the house. What would it be like if our books, our sermons, our conversations explored the rest of the house? What does the rest of the kingdom contain?

Remember, outside the kingdom when the unclean touches the clean, the clean is despoiled. But in Jesus, when he touches the dead man or the blind man or the man with leprosy they become clean. Why isn't this the experience of the average Christian? Maybe the answer is found in a different part of the house - outside of the mud room.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is God in Control?

Christians are funny creatures. In our haste to be "good" Christians we race each other to heap as many superlatives on God as we can. That is to say, we rush to create God in an image that is perfect in our eyes. A famous Christian philospher once noted that given the choice between two attributes of God, whichever is better, that must be God.

Does God know everything? Is he omniscient? Well, knowing everything is better than not knowing everything. Therefore, he must know everything.

Is God all powerful? Is he omnipotent? Well, having all power is better then having most of the power. Therefore, he must be all powerful.

And so on and so forth. God being the best of everything we can think of. There's just one problem with this God. This is not a God of revelation. This is a God of definition.

Do we really think God is a person, an individual being? Does God have a personality? Does he have different moods? Does he make decisions from his heart or is he locked into some kind of cosmic perfection which dictates what is most Godly?

The God of the Bible is revealed as a being interacting with people he loves. Sometimes he feels joy as we are intimate with him and sometimes he feels angry because we lie to him and betray his heart. Why is it so important to us for God to be in control? He doesn't seem to feel like he is.

Control is an interesting thing. When we say that God is sovereign, what do we mean? We live in a mechanistic culture where we have learned to push a button and expect a result. We can cook our meals in 2 minutes in a microwave and we can obtain any kind of food just by heading down to the supermarket. No building a fire, harvesting our food or waiting for the seasons to change. Machines have produced a whole new level of control. Is this how we view God's sovereignty?

How would we think if we lived in a time before machines? What kind of "control" would we expect of a king in the 12th century? Yes, he has ultimate authority over his kingdom. Yes, he has an army with which he protects his people. Yes, a good king would desire to care for and to protect his people. But what would it mean in this culture to say, "The king is in control"?
Can the king produce food out of season? How much time would it take the king to respond to an invasion of his lands by an outside army? Would there be any pain and suffering during the time it took the king to assemble his army and ride to the defense of his people? Even if he quickly defeated the enemy and drove out the invading army would this mean that every citizen had been completey protected?

Control looks different without a mechanistic world view - doesn't it? Maybe, our lives are more like individual adventures in a hostile land. God's love for us and his "control" over our lives is more relational than mechanistic. We will engage the enemy. We will experience loss. Life often brings heart ache and pain. But our loving Father will always ride to our defense. He's just not pushing buttons, moment by moment controlling the comfort or safety of our life experience.

This idea of God requires a great deal more faith. Is God still in control after a loved one has died? Is God still in control as we fight against sickness and disease? Is God in control if He does not arrive on the scene as fast as we think he should?

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

you're not doing enough

Try harder. Do more. Be more.

Who hasn't felt some form of guilt as they consider their "level of maturity" as a follower of Christ. Who hasn't asked themselves why they don't like praying or why it's such a struggle to attend church regularly? Who hasn't been the recipient of a passionate plea from well meaning church leaders to live more like Jesus?

I feel like there is an elephant in the living room every time Christians gather for almost any reason. Performance anxiety. I find it interesting and not a little bit humorous that this euphemism is used most often in the realm of sexual relationships. The basic idea is that one or both partners wonder if their sexual prowess is impressive to their partner. What is ironic about this anxiety is that sex is commonly referred to as "love-making". Last time I checked love always hoped, did not judge and kept no record of wrongs. Why then if two people are engaged in the activity of "making love" would there be any performance anxiety?

Inherant in every wounded human heart is the question, Do I measure up? We ask it a thousand different ways. Am I smart? Do people like me? Am I a good person? Am I attractive? Am I successful? Am I significant? etc. etc. etc.

The condition of Adam and Eve before they divided their hearts between God and something else was total contentment. They were naked and were not ashamed. Everything about the other was out in the open and their was no performance anxiety. Jesus, the second Adam, walked around Palestine, jobless, homeless, living off the provision of others (many of them women) and declaring his beliefs in such a way as to constantly attract the criticism of those around him. Somehow though he was at peace with this lifestyle.

Godliness with contentment is priceless. The Gospel we preach at the Dwelling Place begins and ends in an ocean of grace. Until a person rests in the unending love and acceptance of the Father we will always wonder if we are doing enough.

Just some stuff we should talk about.