Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I have moved all the blog posts and will start actively blogging on the new site:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Parable of the young son

I decided to write this up as its own parable.

Once there was a man who worked at an insurance company as a programmer. He was an expert in statistics and computer science, and ran ever more complex actuarial studies on a massively parallel super-computer.

One day, his young son asked him what he did all day when he went to work. He thought and thought about a way to explain to him what it was he did, and he simply could not think of a way to explain what he was doing in a way that his son could comprehend. So he told him what he considered the most basic and actual truth about it:

"I make money."

Satisfied, the son went on to play. Months later, his mother happened to take him up to his father's office so they could go to lunch. Starry-eyed and excited, the son tagged along. When they arrived at the father's desk, he asked, "where do you make the money?! Confused, the father answered, "Well ... right here." The son answered, "but, where do you melt the metal? Where do you stamp the designs? Where do you keep all the money after you make it? I want to see!"

Laughing, the father pondered how to answer. How to explain that he got paid for his work, and his paycheck was electronically deposited into their bank account? He said, "Honey, it isn't like that." And they went off to lunch without another explanation.

Now the son is grown, and he still doesn't understand what his father was doing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Parable of the two young music students

Once there was a great music teacher who only took a few of the most gifted and promising students. One of his students was a very disciplined young man, hard-working and eager to please. He had not at first wanted to play, but he realized it was something that pleased his mother, and because he desired to please her, he worked at his studies very hard. Every morning he would wake before dawn, practice his scales and finger exercises, and slowly perfect certain passages in the grand classic he happened to be working on. All marveled at his dedication and devotion. In the evening, when others of his peers played outside, he again pulled out his metronome and worked at perfecting the most difficult passages.

The great teacher recognized his discipline and talent. There was technicality and even a clean perfection to his playing that was rare.

The great teacher had another student who was also quite gifted. Although his parents balked at the trouble and time and expense of bringing their son to the lessons, he begged them and insisted against their wishes that he be allowed to take lessons. He too woke up, and from an instinctive and raw appetite he played every chance he could get. He imitated songs he liked from movies and recordings from all styles, and was constantly making up songs and trying his hand at everything he heard. In fact, often his parents would argue with him to stop playing so much because his obsession was intrusive and bothersome. His obsession was anything but discipline, because he would often ignore his other chores and duties, even his personal hygiene, in his insatiable need to constantly play.

In the lessons, the teacher had trouble getting this other student to discipline himself to practice the finer points of playing more difficult passages. However the music teacher was gracious enough to realize that a different approach must be taken to lead this student to greatness. In fact, although in certain ways this student's playing was undisciplined and even a bit sloppy, there was a joy and life to his playing which hinted of true greatness. There was a truth and presence and ease to his playing, a natural musicianship that was indefinable.

The disciplined student went on to a prestigious music academy, where he played Mozart and Bach at music juries where teachers scribbled criticisms as he played. He did indeed receive the highest grades. Occasionally he played at recitals, and eventually he became a piano teacher and a professor of music at the academy. The other student travelled around the country, playing small concerts at bars and outdoor festivals.

Often what looks like success is only a prison made of fear of the opinions of others. True love counts the opinions of others as nothing, and though imperfect and humble of appearance, is impelled by real desire.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts to my mystified friends

This is a note to the mystified reader who wonders how an otherwise intelligent guy ended up not only as a Christian, but as a person seemingly obsessed with some kind of controversy about some fine point of faith that seems frankly irrelevant.

I am not out to convert you. I might be out to convince you, but there isn't a person on earth who doesn't hold some kind of opinion and who doesn't want to be persuasive. There is a difference between respectful persuasive intelligible dialog, and weird angry evangelistic fervor. I'm posting this as a public service so some of you who don't get this can understand where the heck I'm coming from. It is supposed to be respectful and persuasive.

First, I do not believe the earth is 6000 years old. I do believe in Biblical inerrancy (the whole Bible is true) but you have to understand that there is room to think straight within that world. Look at it like this: if the story of the creation of the universe and all of life was written initially in the language of ultimate science, and was fully accurate, no one in antiquity could have even begun to understand it. Even today we couldn't understand it. However, it was not written this way.

Here is a way to understand this. My father was the manager of a large insurance office when I was young, and was an expert in worker's compensation claims. As a child, I asked what he did when he went to work. He said, "I make money." I pictured him melting down copper and pouring it into little molds making coins. When I went to visit his office, asked to go see where they make the money. They laughed, and I was confused. Was he lying or inaccurate? Was he trying to mislead me? Of course not. He simplified his answer because he could not explain worker's compensation and the complex machinations of his office and how they used an IBM mainframe computer to run actuarial numbers or whatever to a 6 year old. I completely misinterpreted his answer in a literal way that wasn't even close to accurate.

Genesis 1 is a one chapter rundown of the creation of the universe and all of life on earth. Not only is it meant to be intelligible to mankind in antiquity, but it is only one chapter. It sets the stage for a much more focused and larger story, and the larger story is really the point. Let's face it, the details of Genesis 1 don't even make sense. It says there was evening and morning, and even vegetation, before there was a sun and moon. That just doesn't make any sense. Does this mean I don't believe? No, it means I am a 6 year old trying to understand the creation of the universe, and I am getting a 6 year old answer. The fact is, the universe exists, and was somehow created. The actual details of what really happened in what order in concert are still way beyond our comprehension. Thus, I put Gen 1 in a right perspective. It is true, it is even literally true, but it is an explanation of an unspeakably complex thing written in a way that is minimally intelligible to all people from antiquity forward.

This brings up another point for my mystified friends. Belief doesn't mean you can't doubt things, you can't think for yourself. There is a place to say honestly, Genesis 1 sure is weird in its details, but I still believe it. You can put things on the 'I don't get this' shelf, without throwing the whole idea of belief and faith out the window. You say, I have trouble believing that a perfect and good loving God could have ordered his people to commit genocide down to the last Canaanite man, woman, and child, when they entered the promised land. I have trouble with that too. I don't get it. I don't even like it. In fact, it makes me sick, and I have some serious questions for God when I get up there. It calls His justice and mercy and goodness into question. I would be a fool to cover this over and pretend I just 'believe' without having doubts about this. I DO have doubts about this. However, I still believe. Where John the apostle says 'God is love' and that 'in this is love, ... that God loved us ... " and all of that, I believe it. Some of this weird stuff, I don't get, and I think I am allowed to believe and to hold out with some doubts. Any Christian that won't own up to having doubts is not very well grounded in the truth of their beliefs.

In fact, one of my favorite guys these days, Peter Rollins, has this byline on his blog: 'to believe is human; to doubt divine" - go check it out:

Here is another thing for my mystified friends to understand. This is such a huge point. When you think of Christians, or the Christian community, you think of the absolute buffoons on television or whatever. No one I know or love is like that. You think that the Christian church is all wrapped up in right wing politics and a weird and harsh form of American patriotism. I lean to the left politically, and I'm concerned for the environment, and I don't poo-poo climate change! Yes, and there are MANY others. There is a huge world of extremely intelligent and extremely large-minded people in the Christian community. There are people on the very cutting edge of culture and thought, who are the people you really ought to be listening to. Can you imagine if all Germans were judged by their association with Naziism? It is no service to anyone to judge or ignore or write off THE GERMANS because of WWII. It is no service to anyone to judge all of christendom by the Spanish Inquisition, Robert Tilton, and that crazy church down the street. There is a gargantuan world of people with great free-thinking principled lives that are part of Christendom that you would probably love to sit down with for a few hours to sip coffee and really talk to.

Finally, the whole point of this blog, the scandal of grace, is that most people outside the church, and a lot of people inside the church, don't get that the point of Christian faith isn't to trick you into being more moral. It is about believing that even when you are not perfect, not moral, not successful, even then you are deeply and truly loved and cared for. When you have problems and grief, there is somewhere to go with that. It is about a love and a joy that cannot be taken away, about significance that cannot be lost. It is about being freed from having to engineer your own significance and success and fulfillment. I have to say, if I am trying to persuade anyone of anything, it is to invite you to try jumping in, the water feels GREAT! Don't let legitimate doubts about a few weird things in the Old Testament prevent you from experiencing what C.S. Lewis called being "Surprised by Joy." If I said anything to you, I would say, I really love walking in this way. I still have plenty of problems, plenty of frustrations, plenty of failures, but I also have an assurance that it will all work out and that God is truly with me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Justification Equation

I was listening to an excellent teaching by R.C. Sproul, and he came to a point where you can hear him cracking the chalk against the blackboard decisively with this equation:

Faith + Works != Justification ('!=' is programmer shorthand for 'not equal')
Faith = Justification + Works

How the dust was flying! You can hear people starting to cough. You gotta love him!

He is talking about assurance, as in, being assured that you are really a Christian, really eternally and forever under grace, eternally out of condemnation. If we add works to the wrong side of the equation, we remove the possibility of assurance. Assurance, he says, is a crucial element of our sanctification, and I would have to agree with this.

If we have come to a point, and it is settled, that Christ has truly justified us, that our sin cannot ever come between us and God, and that it is out of our hands to spoil that, we enter a new dynamic. No longer do we labor. No longer do we strive. No longer do we worry. What we DO is no longer part of the equation which leads to justification. Thus, what we do becomes motivated from a very different place. We no longer act from fear, no longer perform based on an attempt to justify ourselves.

We always couch this in religious terms but I believe this is true across the entire spectrum of human experience. Just as Solomon writes:

“And I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4, NASB.

All men, believers or not, religious or not, in their field of endeavor, strive for significance and skill as a means to significance, a means to self-justification. Even as we talk, make jokes, do business, work, recreate, form important relationships, we strive for significance with each other. In our minds, significance is earned by our deeds, our cleverness, our greatness in business or debauchery or pleasure or skill with words or music. I must craft my own importance because it is up to me alone to do so. I am constantly on the lookout to be more clever, more successful, more insightful, happier, with better pleasures and appreciations, to prove my significance.

In Christ, this is completely turned around. We are justified as a gift. We are declared significant carte blanche. We no longer need to become great at anything to prove our significance - we simply ARE significant. We are declared just. Any attempt to water this down, to obscure it, to blunt it, only takes us back to the fruitless land of doing things to prove our worthiness.

The flesh rebels at this. The flesh wants to act, to do things, to prove significance. The flesh doesn't rebel at the law, it loves it. The question isn't law or sin, the question for the flesh is really which law to revel in. Either a law of religious leanings, or a law of partying, or a law of violence, or whatever. Every community has its rules for belonging and honor, its rites of passage. You can feel yourself recoil at the idea that you need do nothing to be significant, to be justified.

However, under this new dynamic, under a decisive declaration of justification, we act and work and do things from a wholly different impulse. Under grace, whereas works are no longer necessary, works appear as fruit:

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:18-23, NASB.

So, we can come around and say, am I acting from faith? It is the right belief, a real assurance of justification, that leads to the right fruit. Works exist in both equations, but if you put works on the wrong side of the equation, you nullify grace. Do you see that? If you have faith in the work of Christ but still have the notion that you have to do stuff to earn justification then it nullifies Christ's work because you are still the one justifying yourself. This has drastic consequences to your works, because they are motivated by self-justification and not as the fruit of love.

When Christ justifies us, all of our human endeavor comes from a wholly different place. We joke differently, because we do not need to pose as a clever person - we already have an assurance that we are completely justified.

Do a mental experiment with me. Just pretend that no matter what, I mean NO MATTER WHAT, you were the very apple of God's eye. If you just got out of an orgy and smoked illicit things and did every debaucherous selfish act you could think of, you could immediately still pray and God would send you a million dollars dropped right out of the sky. How would you live? Would you still orgy-ize and smoke things? Would you keep asking for a million dollars?

Let me pose this to you: it really IS like that. We really have passed out of judgement, and as Peter says,

“... seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:2, 3, NASB.

A million dollars is nothing more than a burden to manage, and a facade of fake wealth. You can't eat a million dollars. Jesus fed 5000 with a few fish and loaves. Money is nothing but a tool, and it is far from the only tool of provision. Sin is unfulfilling and rotten. So since we are justified no matter what, we are now free to look at the world with a right mind, a free mind. If EVERYTHING is permissable, and EVERY RESOURCE is available to me to do so, then the only question is, what greatness, what humble peace, what sweet loveliness, does my justifier have in mind for me today?

Here is my advice to you my esteemed reader: put works on the right side of the equation. As Peter says,

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;” 2 Peter 1:10, NASB.

Be assured that you are justified by Him, you are significant already in the eyes of God. Live from this position of strength.

Monday, September 20, 2010

John the Baptist and Jesus

“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.” Luke 1:5, NIV.

Here we have a pretty obscure verse that shows us something very profound. John the Baptist is descended from the Levitical priesthood, and thus represents the Law. Both his mother and father were full blooded descendants of Aaron. Aaron was selected as the first priest, so saying they are descended from Aaron is saying they are high-pedigree priests:

““Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me--Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.” Exodus 28:1, NASB.

They are known as Levites because Aaron was descended from one of Jacob's sons, Levi:

“Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said, “Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.” Exodus 4:14, NASB.

““And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the sons of Israel, to perform the service of the sons of Israel at the tent of meeting, and to make atonement on behalf of the sons of Israel, that there may be no plague among the sons of Israel by their coming near to the sanctuary.”” Numbers 8:19, NASB.

However, Jesus is not descended from the line of Aaron, but from the line of Judah.

So, when John baptizes Jesus, we have Jesus submitting to and fulfilling the law. John baptizes as one who represents and is under the law, for repentance from sins. As we look through John's ministry we see that it has to do with declaring the need for repentance, thus representing the law.

However, John himself says that he is subservient to Jesus:

““a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” Mark 1:3-7, NIV.

“John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. “He must increase, but I must decrease. “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. “What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness. “He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” John 3:27-34, NASB.

So we have the one who represents the law, preparing and making the way, and pointing to Christ, saying publicly that he is less than Christ. This is a picture of the law acting as a tutor to lead to God's work of grace, and of the law being less than grace.

“John *bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” John 1:15-18, NASB.

What this says to me is that the idea of law being an agent which cannot produce righteousness but which leads one to grace, is a message that God spoke even in the grand sweep of long Jewish lineage over thousands of years. The message of grace is His message, His primary message, a message He planned from the very beginning, and which He is using the Jewish nation and the grand sweep of history to teach us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Love is eternal because it does not depend on attributes

This is a response to an absolutely fascinating post by a guy named Peter Rollins. You can and should read his original post here:

It really got me thinking about some of the foundational aspects of grace and love, so I wanted to post my response on my own blog as a matter of record.

I really enjoyed this. I heard a radio DJ in Vancouver BC read the jacket notes after playing Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, talking about his Idee Fixe - that it was about a love so great that it pined eternally and forgave everything. I can't stand Berlioz, but I walked on clouds for days thinking that this is the kind of love God has loved me with. It is ironic that for most of us, the great love of God seems to be a vapor compared to romantic love, whereas romantic love is actually only a shadow or icon of the love of God for us. It is also another reason why in Christ we leave the universe of requirement and enter the universe of grace. Under law we maintain relationship by maintaining the necessary attributes to prevent rejection. Grace goes beyond accepting relationship based on adherence to certain traits, and enters into love based on pure identity. We become His sacred x, his pearl of great price for which He sells all else.

As to the criticism that it seems specious to define love as only that which loves always without defining attributes, this is actually the strongest idea in the piece. If love depends on attributes, it is not love but earned credit. If it does not need attributes but is based entirely on identity, then since nothing can be earned, nothing can be lost, and it becomes eternal. This is why, when Paul lists his huge list of unpardonable offenses in 1Cor 6 (aberrant sexualities and slander and greed and such), he follows immediately with "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable." The relationship which is defined by admiration of attributes is subject to a perfection of behaviors, but the relationship which is defined by grace is defined by pure love based on direct identity.

Thanks again, loved the ideas in this one.