Grace and Fairness

Read the story of Noah this morning. And in the story it says, “Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.”

In the middle of all kinds of human depravity and wickedness, Moses somehow found favor, grace, in God’s sight. When reading stories like Noah’s we tend to put in all the reasons that Noah found favor in God’s sight. Somehow he was offering the right sacrifices, he was praying the right way, he wasn’t killing people. These are all good reasons to find favor in the sight of the LORD.

But the Bible doesn’t give us any reasons for the grace that Noah received.

A few chapters before we can read the story of Cain and Abel. The text says that God had regard for Abel’s offerings from his flocks, but not for Cain’s, which were from grains and plants. The Bible doesn’t tell us why God had regard for Abel’s offering. We put in the story well because Abel was offering the right kind of offering, and his heart was better, and so on. The Bible doesn’t tell us that.

When we read stories like this we want to justify God’s grace, favor, or regard. We want to give God a reason for being gracious, because if God has a reason for those people then somehow I can find that reason. Then I can work my way towards justifying why I deserve grace too.

But grace isn’t fair. It’s God’s gift to give. And when we turn the the New Testament, we see that God chooses to give that gift through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Now this seems entirely unfair.

We want to be able to build a case why we deserve grace for the things that we do. But we don’t deserve grace at all. That’s why it’s grace. It’s God’s gift to give. It doesn’t seem fair to us, but for God to give grace, forgiving our sins at all, that is an incredibly generous gift. It really isn’t fair to God that he should give us any grace.

Grace isn’t fair. If it was fair it wouldn’t be grace.

Thoughts on Prometheus

I saw Prometheus on Tuesday.  The motivation for the protagonist in the film is to discover where humanity came from.  This search leads them to an earthlike planet, where things then go horribly, horribly wrong.  The acting was fine, the special effects were amazing, the premise was interesting. 

Prometheus is one more story that tries to make sense of the fact that there is very little in the world that can explain human life.  How did we get here, why are we different than the other creatures on the planet, how did all of this happen, and on and on.  I don’t think that Prometheus gives a good explanation to answering these questions and I have no question in my mind that actually answering these questions was not the writer’s, producer’s or director’s motivation for the film.  They needed a reason for the protagonists to go searching for answers. 

The really interesting thing for me in this film is that even thought the protagonists search leads to some really bad things happening to her and her lover, and her crew, she still holds on to her father’s cross.  She still chooses to believe in something.  The film does a pretty good job of allowing for uncertainty and faith in the life of the protagonist.  

I think this tenssion of uncertainty and faith is exactly where most Christians live day to day.  We have to constantly wrestle with the things that we read in scripture and what the things that we can see in the world and try to come to grips with all of it.  

I think this tension is also where every single person who has ever lived exists.  That’s the reason that we study science, philosophy, theology, literature, etc. We are searching for answers for why we are here and how we got here.  

As a Christian I am completely satisfied with there being a Creator God who made everything and made humanity in his image.  That makes sense to me.  I will never have all the answers to all the questions that that entails, but I can keep searching for the Creator, and I can see his work in everything around me, and the mysteries of creation and the Universe are even more spectacular because there is someone for whom these mysteries are not mysteries, and my search is ultimately to find him. Answers and clarity for these questions are by products of my search for the Creator.

Why Are We So Afraid?

The other day I was thinking about the various things that the Church is crying out against in American society.  I talked with someone about a documentary he wanted me to watch about the rise of Islam, and he said, “it’s scary, scary stuff.”  That has just stuck with me.

Why are we so afraid?

It got me thinking about Jesus.  He struck fear in the heart of the religious leaders of his time and they influenced the political leaders to be afraid of him as well.  He was a threat to their power.  He was declaring a new kingdom and a new way of living with God the Father.  He was seen as a revolutionary and a threat.

Revolutionaries are always a threat to those in power.

Change is always a threat to those in power.

The Church is clearly seeing a diminishing of our “power” and influence in American society.  The responses that I am seeing more often than not boil down to fear.

Are we afraid of losing our “power.”

The really sad thing about all of this is that we blame society for our loss of influence in American society.  But the real reason that we have lost our influence is because we gave it away.  We stopped caring about being a force for good in society and instead huddled together in our little clubs.

Don’t blame the media, the president, muslims, or the Gays for our fear.  It’s our own fault.

How do we overcome our fears?

Engagement.  Engagement does not mean agreement.  Engagement does not mean debate.  Engagement starts with conversation.  Stop decrying the evils of american society to club members who already agree with you.  Get out and get to know a gay person.  Talk to a muslim.  Serve the poor.

Do something.  Don’t let fear paralyze you.

Jesus help me to not let fear paralyze me.

God Particle

Has your kid ever asked why is there stuff?

If not then you are pretty lucky because that’s a pretty difficult question to answer.

As a Christian I believe that everything had it’s origin in God.  But why is there matter and stuff and why does that stuff matter, that’s where things get complicated.

Scientists have been trying to find this thing called the Higgs-Boson particle that theoretically could give some understanding to why things have matter.  It is completely theoretical because no one has ever seen it.  It’s been called the God particle and as Alister McGrath explains in this article it’s actually a great place to begin the search for God.

I am going to paste the last half of the article in this blog becuase I think Mcgrath gives some helpful understanding for the importance of science and how it relates to Christian faith.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Some tell us that science is about what can be proved. The wise tell us it is really about offering the best explanations of what we see, realising that these explanations often cannot be proved, and may sometimes lie beyond proof. Science often proposes the existence of invisible (and often undetectable) entities – such as dark matter – to explain what can be seen. The reason why the Higgs boson is taken so seriously in science is not because its existence has been proved, but because it makes so much sense of observations that its existence seems assured. In other words, its power to explain is seen as an indicator of its truth.

There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic. Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world. God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus. As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring “the existence of an unseen order” in which the “riddles of the natural order” can be explained.

There’s more to God than making sense of things. But for religious believers, it’s a great start.

 

Stewardship [or] All About (all) the Benjamins

I am currently working on a series of sermons about Stewardship.  As a pastor, when I use the word stewardship the common assumption is that I’m going to talk about money.  If I say, I’m doing a series on stewardship, people hear, “Here come four week talking about money, give more, give more, give more.”

Can I be completely honest and vulnerable about something here on my blog.  (I’m going to anyway so deal with it.)  I hate this common understanding of stewardship.  I hate it because it is just too narrow.

Am I going to talk about money?  Yes.  1 week.  Am I going to talk about tithing and giving offerings?  Yes.

I have said before and I will say again, I will never apologize for talking about money at Creekside because no one is getting rich at Creekside.  If all of a sudden all the pastors pull up in Bentleys then we will start apologizing for talking about money so much.  (Just between you and me, we are so far from that becoming a possibility.)

Another part of my problem with the common understanding of stewardship is that all that matters is Tithes and Offerings.  These stewardship campaigns often feel like, the goal is simply to increase tithes and offerings.  To give a shot in the arm for the year to make sure that we keep making budget.  Ministry has expenses, there is no way around that, and at Creekside we try to run a pretty tight ship to make sure that we are getting the most of the resources that people have given in tithes and offerings.  So it’s important to talk about the importance of giving, and we do that every week.

But stewardship, and specifically talking about financial stewardship is more than just tithes and offerings.  God cares about every penny that you spend.  And he cares because he gave it to you, and he wants you to use it towards his purposes in the world and his purposes for your life.

Pay your bills, enjoy your life, there is nothing wrong with doing these things.  But stewardship is so much bigger than just making sure people tithe.  Tithes and offerings are a key indicator in spiritual growth and if people are truly trusting God, but so is whether or not you are spending wrecklessly on credit, or if you are neglecting your financial responsibilites.

All of that is also stewardship.

I think we would all benefit, church attenders and church leaders, to take into account that God has called us all to be disciples, not just on Sunday but every day where ever we go.  And not just with 10% of our gross income, but with every dollar.  God cares about all of our life, and how we are using all that he has given to us to advance his mission of grace to the world.  And he cares about the Benjamins, all of them, as well as the little copper Lincolns.

Science and Faith

I’m not very smart in a lot of areas, and one of those areas is science.  Because I never felt like I needed to learn science-y stuff.  I took chemistry because there was promise of explosions (thank Mr. Hilty).

But lately, I have been compelled to reconsider my understanding of faith and science and how they interact.  This has led me to have some really interesting conversations, but more importantly it has led me to trust God more and more as I talk about scientific investigations that some might feel could discredit my faith.  This has not happened at all.  My faith, I feel, has actually become stronger.

One of the blogs I read is from Professor of Philosophy Jamie Smith.  Smith was the prof. of one of the most impacting classes in my entire MATC at Northwest University.  He posted this blog about an organization called The Colossian Forum, which is trying to help foster conversations between science and faith.  I watched this video today and was encouraged about the science and faith discussion, and reminded that truly all things hold together in Christ.  If you are intersted in the Colossian Forum go check them out.

Colbert, Maron, Suffering, Faith, and Comedy.

As I’ve stated before, I’m working on a chapter for my thesis that examines Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report.  I cam across an article from Rolling Stone and Colbert Talked about losing and finding his faith again, and I thought I should share this.  So here:

Did you ever go through a period where you lost your faith?

Yeah. It was a college angst thing. But once I graduated from college, some Gideon literally gave me a box of The New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs on the street in Chicago. I took one and opened it right away to Matthew, Chapter 5, which is the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. That whole chapter is essentially about not worrying. I didn’t read it — it spoke to me, and it was an effortless absorption of the idea. Nothing came to me in a thunderbolt, but I thought to myself, “I’d be dumb not to re-examine this.”

What caused you to go through that dark period?

Well, I had very sad events in my childhood. The death of my father and my brothers was understandably a shattering experience that I hadn’t really dealt with in any way. And there comes a time when you’re psychologically able to do so. I still don’t like talking about it. It still is too fresh.

Do you think experiencing that has helped what you do in any way? Or made it more of a challenge?

Not to get too deep here, but the most valuable thing I can think of is to be grateful for suffering. That is a sublime feeling, and completely inexplicable and illogical, but no one doesn’t suffer. So the degree to which you can be aware of your own humanity is the degree to which you can accept, with open eyes, your suffering. To be grateful for your suffering is to be grateful for your humanity, because what else are you going to do — say, “No, thanks”? It’s there. “Smile and accept,” said Mother Teresa. And she was talking to people who had it rough. That’s not how you make jokes, though.

 

Strauss, Neil. “The Subversive Joy of Stephen Colbert. (Cover story).” Rolling Stone no. 1087 (September 17, 2009): 56-110. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 7, 2011).  Digital version had not page numbers.

Colbert is one of the great comedic minds of our time, and he’s also very thoughtful.  His character on The Colbert Report seems very different from the man in this interview, but that’s all part of Colbert’s genius.

His thoughts on suffering I think are very important.  Particularly when we think about the arc of comedy the U-shaped plot line which follows Good Life, Low point in life, Restoration.  That low point in the story is incredibly valuable because it makes the characters more human and more relatable.  Suffering is a part of everyone’s life and it becomes increasingly more important to realize that your suffering doesn’t have to be the end of your story.

"Comedy saved my life."

Yesterday I was listening to the WTF podcast with Marc Maron.  He gave the Keynote speech at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival.  His speech dealt with the low point of his life: divorced, a career that was dying, and thoughts of suicide.  But for him comedy saved his life, and he decided that the his suffering was not the end of his story. He began to take charge of his career, began a podcast where he reached out to other comics and began to process his pain.  Having listened to almost every episode (I know I’m a pastor but Jesus has heard cuss words before so I’m not too worried about it) Marc has come to understand who he is, he has examined spiritual issues, and really become a voice for others who are suffering to know that they are not alone.

I read this last night in the book Subversive Laughter by Ron Jenkins:

“In a world fraught with danger and despair, comedy is a survival tactic, and laughter is an act of faith.” (1)

That laughter is the reminder that this moment of despair is temporary.  This present suffering does not have to be the end of our story.

As a Christian and a Pastor, my purpose is to point people to Jesus.  Jesus suffered, just like we suffered.  And through the mystery of the incarnation.  Jesus, the eternal son of God, because of his suffering understands our suffering.  We don’t have to do life alone.  We don’t have to suffer alone.  We can embrace our suffering, learn from the moment and be transformed.  We truly can live a life of comedy even though we might feel like we are living a tragedy.

Don’t suffer alone.