Monday, January 30, 2012

Knowing Jesus + Suffering = Joy

Years ago I got it into my head that I wanted to jump out of an airplane with a parachute. I managed to do a few static line jumps, which is a fancy way of saying that your rip cord is tied to the airplane, before hanging the hobby up due to funds. It hardly qualified as skydiving I would say, but it was quite a thrill all the same.

I've recalled that experience many times since as I've attempted to grasp the word faith. I can still remember what it felt like, climbing out of the airplane at 3000 feet and standing on the landing gear of that little Cessna; the wind, the noise, the adrenalin rush. I'ts actually a fairly well fleshed out understanding of faith I think. The truth is that I trusted the rig on my back with my life and was willing to act on that trust while the danger with which I was confronted was very real and present.

As of late I've been considering this analogy of "faith" in a deeper sense. I realized that it didn't really serve to clarify the understanding of faith in a way that I needed because the purpose of my parachute, and by extension my faith, in the analogy was to save my life. That is to say that my faith was wrongly centered on me and this body of flesh in which I live. I have become convinced, you see, that if this is the reason that I have faith in Christ, I am missing the mark. If I am to understand faith in a way that will ultimately bring the joy that I need to my heart, I need more... much more actually.

You see, while faith in a parachute to save this flesh is a great thing in the natural, in the end its purpose is not much more than a seat belt. Such a thing's purpose has only to do with keeping my flesh in tact. But I am much more than flesh. I am spirit also. And my spiritual being is the being that should be the most interested in faith, for it is by faith that my spiritual being is saved from, not death, but an eternal death of torment. Why would I worry about something that will kill this body, when I should be worrying about what can kill both soul and body? (Luke 12:4-5)

So I changed the analogy. Now, when I recall those jumps, in order to better understand faith I rename the purpose of the symbols. Before, the purpose of the parachute was to save my body. In my new understanding the parachute exists to be known. This is key... and I think somewhat difficult to grasp.

In both ways of understanding this the parachute represents Jesus. But in the true understanding "I" cease to be the reason and the center for the parachute's existence. Instead, the parachute exists to be known. Please try to grasp this. In this way everything shifts to make much more sense of the life I experience. In this new way, you see, the analogy puts me in a position where I cannot reach my new goal of knowing "my parachute" unless I jump out of the airplane. And I reiterate that knowing the parachute is EVERYTHING. In this way I hope that it can clearly be seen that I cannot KNOW Jesus properly until I obey Him in a way that does not necessarily make sense in the natural, but trust him to come through in a way that glorifies Himself. It is key to understand in this that when I say "Him coming through", I mean Him revealing Himself to me in a way that I KNOW Him all the more, and so therefore, am better able to serve and worship Him, all the more, and to allow this flesh to die to all these things, all the more.

I began right away, with this new insight, to realize that this was a recurring theme in scripture. It was after Noah built the ark, you see, that God's salvation, and thus glory, came. Abraham was not able to see God's glory until after he left his father's land. It was after Joshua marched around Jericho that God's glory was displayed. It was after Daniel went up into his room and prayed that he witnessed first hand the glory of God. It was after Jesus was raised up that he was glorified. On the contrary, the Israelite's unwillingness to take the land the first time cost them forty years in the desert. Key to all of this is God's glory; his exaltation, his majesty. Perhaps when we approach these scriptures from this perspective we can begin to see why faith plays such a major role in God's redemptive plan. We believe, then God's glory is revealed, then we get credit for righteousness that we don't possess. No belief, no God's glory, no redemption.

So, the only way I can know my parachute is to jump out of the airplane. Sure, I can put it on my back in case the airplane begins to go down and experience the parachute as a back up plan. I have known Christians who wear Jesus in this way. They all seem to have one thing in common, a joyless existence because their flesh is their end goal.

I can also take it out of its pouch within the safety and security of the airplane. I can study it, a tangled mess of thin fabric and strings. I can talk about it, argue about it, hold positions about its construction; but I can't know it as an inflated canopy until I take that step of faith. Knowing the parachute in this way misses the parachute's and my reason for existence, at least as it pertains to faith: its reason being to be known... my reason: to know.

With this in mind I read Paul's words and his passion in "knowing Christ, and him crucified", or "I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings," or "I count it all loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ" with new understanding. He is glorified in our hearts when we are knowing Him with increasing intimacy, and as we experience his glory on display we experience joy, which glorifies Him all the more. This is our taste of heaven on earth: knowing Him. This is the source of our power over sin, knowing Him. This is our power to consider it all joy when we face trials of many kinds: knowing Him. This is our ability to count all the fruits of our efforts to satisfy the flesh as dung: knowing Him. We look up, as a parachutist looks to his canopy, to worship the thing that has happened in response to our step of faith, the revelation of our savior that we may know, glorify and worship Him in ever more ways.

We miss it when we see Jesus as existing to make this life better. Such thinking puts us at the center, and we are not at the center. That's why the analogy of the parachute breaks down when we see its purpose as saving our bodies. To reflect the spiritual reality of faith it would have to exist solely to be known in its true inflated form, and then worshiped. Actually, for anyone who has jumped out of an airplane, worship is actually not all that far fetched. There is a special feeling one gets, at least the novice, after the transition from hurling toward certain death to gazing up at the wonderful and beautiful canopy quietly gliding oneself safely to the ground, takes place. There is a realization that the parachute was in fact trustworthy. In a spiritual sense what could be better than knowing our savior better as we trust in him to reveal himself to us?

I have made thousands of decisions in my life based, not on my espoused faith, but rather on ensuring minimum suffering and increased comfort. More of those decisions than I'd like to admit have been based on not trusting God to take care of me, or avoiding the feeling of discomfort about my "faith" before others. As a result my life more closely resembles a life in which my lips honor God when it is safe, but my heart is far from him. (Mt 15:8) But therein is the problem. I am wanting to trust God to take care of me when what I really need from God is that I can know Him in a way that causes all the things of this world that would hinder me to fade away. What I will eat, and what I will wear, and where I will lay my head are all necessarily secondary to that one all encompassing hope: to know Him!

In thinking this through, I discovered that my developing little "parable" could actually be mined for more. In the next post I will discuss how the airplane represents my flesh.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Another Name For Guilt: "A Good Start"

We live in a culture obsessed with the exaltation of self. Of course there are many obstacles to this feat, one of which is "guilt". How can we exalt self when we know in our inner being that we are guilty? The realization of this fact is evidenced in our answer to the question: "Would I feel comfortable asking God to give me everything I deserve?". We all inherently know this would be a bad idea.

The fact is, guilt, just as physical pain, is a good thing. They both keep us from harming ourselves; pain-our flesh and guilt-our spirit. But guilt goes much further than protecting our conscious, it takes us much further by taking us to the cross. And it is there, at the cross that we are able to find the most precious gift of all, redemption.

But the cross stands against the exaltation of self. To reconcile this, the self-exalting individual will seek comfort elsewhere. One of the common places of finding vain spiritual comfort is the words in the Bible: "God is love". Assuming our self is the center it is easy to think that God is love because he loves US. But it should also be considered that God would still be love even if he didn't love US. These comforting words can also be deadly without the full counsel of scripture. There is a down-side of "God is love". That down-side, as well as the glorious side, was put on display at the cross. It is here, at this horrible, bloody and cruel display that we can see the reasons that we know in our inner being not to demand of God: "give me all that I deserve", for we are actually looking at what we deserve.

Our guilt reminds us of our wrong actions to others, which according to scripture, are wrong actions against God. While the self-exalting person is willing to pacify his anger at someone else with the assumption that justice will somehow be exacted by God, or some other cosmic force, he seldom brings to the forefront of his thinking the wrong he has done to others deserving of that same justice. But when he does, it is a good starting point, for it might well be that he has stumbled onto the "narrow path", a path that leads to a place where something this world sees as foolishness and ugly, the cross, is seen as liberating, wonderful and glorious by those who understand what it reveals.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Horrible God?

Why does watching this NOT challenge my beliefs? Also, to read the comments that follow I'm a non-thinker. Of course I level the same charge at the video's makers as well as it's commenters.

One of the reasons it's easy to sluff this off is that it ignores the basis for evil. Suppose that the Video's maker is correct. Suppose that there really is no God. Does evil suddenly vanish? Does the corporate raider who steals the company's wealth then lays off the employees suddenly stop? Do murders, homelessness or child abuse suddenly just go away? The fact is, if there is no God, not only do these things continue, but any reason that they should end disappear also for if there is no God, there is no basis for morality. But the video not only ignores this but also then judges God as evil. This is odd when you think about it. It destroys any basis upon which to judge anything, then judges God. The video seeks to destroy one standard without providing another standard by which it can base its own conclusions?

How easy it is to reach out from nothingness and smack things that are. It's like the violent invisible man. Really, how difficult is it to pick a part one thing while at the same time presenting nothing worth defending to take its place? This video has the feel of a hand reaching out of the fog of nothingness to slap us in the face after which it disappears again into nothingness.

Though I think it is sad that such attacks are effective on those who don't think these things through, they don't bother me personally. Besides, we were warned in scripture that these sorts of things would happen. Therefore I would rightly have more reason for concern if the makers of this video had simply ignored my "silly" Christian beliefs altogether. By paying no attention to my "folly", they would have proven Jesus a liar. But instead they have showed him to be the light of the world, a light in fact that man hates because of His illumination of sin.