Friday, May 8, 2015

The cost of freedom is suffering, even for God.

God created us to be free and that had to include the possibility of sin. If every time we abused our freedom and sinned and hurt each other, God intervened and stopped it, we would no longer be free (and we'd probably complain about that too). Yet his response to our condemnation of Him for the atrocities he allowed in our freedom is profound. Not only does he have mercy and forgive, but he also takes the sin upon himself. This not only reconciles us to him, but also to each other. Because it would not be enough simply to forgive the rapist, because where is the justice for the victim? The rapists might be reconciled to God, but now the rapist's victim is not only still embittered against the rapist, but now also against God. 

So, since God's mercy is effective, when he looks upon a sinner and makes a judgement of righteousness upon them, then he necessarily takes the responsibility for their sin upon himself. Just as if a human judge declared an obviously guilty person innocent and let him go free, would not the victim now accuse the judge of a crime? Would the judge not now be culpable for the crime of the person he had mercy on? With God His judgement it is actually effective, meaning if he judges you innocent you are innocent, and naturally, to all those you have victimized, your sin necessarily and totally now falls upon God. 

So by God having mercy on a sinners, the victims of those sinners now blame God. But what are we going to do? Crucify Him for it? 

There is a reason why Christ is the Judge of mankind, because he is also the one who is willing to take our sin upon himself, by means of his mercy. It is simple enough for Him to simply forgive our sins against Him, it is another thing all together for him to forgive our injustices against each other and for us to still be able to call him just. But as it is, He is both just, and the justifier of those who believe in Him.

The cost of our freedom is suffering, even for God.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Habitual Rededicaters

When I was a pastor and just growing up I remember at church, when we'd have the invitation and people would come down the isle to get saved, there were many times where the same people would repeatedly make the trip every few weeks if not every week.  We called it "rededication" or something, and repeat rededicaters would inevitably get an eye roll, at least an internal eye roll, if not an actual one.

I mean, you're already saved, why do you have to keep on coming back and doing it over and over again?  Part of me questioned their faith, but ultimately I questioned my own faith too, I rededicated several times growing up.

Heck, I was baptized three times, I guess I was a habitual rededicater too, I probably even got some eye rolls.  It wasn't until I considered and participated in the Orthodox sacrament of confession that I realized what was happening.  

The rededicaters were really seeking confession, but the their tradition didn't really provide for it, so walking the isle and getting saved again was the closest thing they could figure out.  

I'm thankful for the wisdom of the Church in providing for a sacrament that I can regularly participate in to confess my sin.  I've always known I needed it, I just didn't know really what to do until now.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I am the first sinner.

"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (I Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

I've always read the word "chief" to mean "the worst of sinners", which is surely an appropriate way to read it.  

However the word can also mean "first".  As in, my sin was the first sin, or that I was the first sinner.

In Christ's view of time, my life doesn't happen after Adam's, but in a sense happens at once with all of reality.  When He looks upon me, he can, if he pleases, view all of creation from the perspective of its beginning with me.  

What an honor it would be, to have God consider me first, not in the context of a history forced upon me, but choosing to view me first, only defined by what I am in and of myself.  

When he takes the opportunity to do this, I am the first of creation, the object of His creative Love, and my sin is also first, followed by and even the cause of all other sin.

Thankfully no matter who he looks at, or how the beginning they establish manifests itself, there is always a future beyond that beginning where Christ has come into the world to save the first sinner, every one of us.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beware the Fear Porn

The fear media uses the airwaves to create a constant environment of fear. People tune in and quickly develop an addiction to it. It's called "fear porn". Glenn Beck is just one of many that make use of this tactic. The programming is entertaining, but unlike the Rush Limbaugh of the old days (the 90's for all you kids out there), many of the new entertainers neglect to admit that is what their programs are, entertainment. Or more precisely, "amusement".

("a" being the prefix for "without" and "muse" meaning "thought". Without thought. Perfect description, as the programming is doing the thinking for you.)

The fear hustlers make money by selling advertisements to other companies who capitalize on a piggy backed scare tactic. It's how much of modern media works. From ISIS to Ebola to the illuminati and financial meltdown, it's just a way to sell you stuff. They are just applying the old saying "Never let a good crisis go to waste." And the stuff they are selling is over priced cheap goods that are easy to source and distribute, so their margins are huge. And they have to be in order to pay for all the advertising.

Seriously, this is an email I got from Glenn Beck, "there hasn't been anything like it since a giant meteor wiped out the dinosaurs from the face of the earth"

WOW!! Please take my money!

If you really want to prepare your family for an emergency, all it takes is a little research and maybe a trip to your local Mormon Store House and you can be pretty well prepared without all the fear that will end up just costing you money.

Turn off the talk radio and the TV while you make your plan, you'll come up with something much more reasonable, effective, and less expensive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Terrorism and Eternal Security

I think the systematic reduction of the process of salvation to an eternally significant but otherwise irrelevant identity decision has much to do with the psychosis infecting some Christians with regard to the irrational fear many have of the Islamic religion.

It is taught that when you choose to be "saved", that day when you made your profession of faith in Christ, it marked the moment in time where you went from being eternally damned to "eternally secure" in your salvation.  Never mind the fact that it basically had no other effect on your life.  It was like choosing to be a Cowboy or a Sooner, only with eternal consequences.  In fact it's probably been preached like that before.

Many cling to this simple concept because it is all they know with regard to their hope of salvation.  Once they walked the isle or raised their hand their job was done, as was the person's who preached it to them.  If there was more to be known it was understood to be optional.  To question or dismiss this reasonably suspect process is to risk damning themselves.  They've been told they have "eternal security", and that makes them feel good, so it becomes an anchor of their identity, even if effectively only as a label.

With this in mind it's no wonder the fear that can overtake a person when they consider the idea of someone accepting a faith that has been propagandized to them as the dogmatic institutionalization of pure evil.  If all one has to do to be a Christian and fundamentally change the nature of their eternal being is make eye contact with the preacher and repeat a little prayer, then if someone even half heartedly considers faith in a perceived evil such as Islam, are they not similarly, but obversely affected?

It's irrelevant whether the person actually follows the Islamic faith, particularly if they seem to be a GOOD person.  Because the religion, as it has been taught to the American public, is the institutionalization of pure evil.  So while a Christian is to be judged not by their actions, but instead simply by the label they had chosen for themselves at church camp twenty years ago in order to escape Hell; a Muslim, even one who is honest and hard working and welcoming despite the clear teachings of their religion to be thieving, hate filled barbaric murderers, must likewise be viewed by the label they have chosen for themselves, and not by the content of their character.  Not to identify them with their label would undermine the whole concept of "eternal security" as it is fairly commonly understood. The foundations of American salvation itself would begin to crumble lest we put upon the Muslim the full horror of our perception of their religion, despite their curious lack of any of the nasty traits we've been taught that their religion demands.

The idea that we are operating under a misconception of Islam can be rejected outright.  For obvious reasons.  If people see any good, or are even neutral about the religion of Islam, or any other shallowly understood concept or culture that could be used as the basis for a flippant label applied to one's self, then they are in danger of overlooking the only flippant label that grants eternal life, Christian.

Attributing eternal security to being the exclusive byproduct of something not much more significant than a fleeting thought may help to fill up the Churches, but it fills them up with people scared witless of their neighbors who's fleeting thoughts aren't founded in the "eternal security" of the same theology that we all inherited.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

How the State Leaches Power by Abusing Minority Rights

I'm preparing to Emcee the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma's "WTF (Where's The Freedom) Day" at the Capitol on Monday.  We are highlighting some of the most Liberty unfriendly bills that are being introduced this session.  As I am familiarizing myself with some of the different speakers we've lined up to discuss each bill, I find I will be in the company of a very diverse group of people.  

It seems these laws are all targeting groups of people that are in the minority in some way, be it because of race, religion, lifestyle choices, etc.  Some of them controversial, but some of them are just in the minority.  

It struck me how the state can establish and maintain power through this kind of bigotry.  Increasing their power to regulate the lives of minority groups, and doing so not only with little push back from the majority of their constituency, but with their enthusiastic support.  

If I wasn't paying attention to this, I would have likely just let it pass.  These are people I don't associate with, some of them I don't even agree with, so the effect these laws have on me isn't readily apparent.  But when I consider the foundation of power these laws establish for the state, at the expense of other people's rights, I realize that my rights are being traded as well.  

The importance of standing against these kinds of actions by the state cannot be over stated.  If we allow the state to traffic in the rights of others, then we've allowed it to establish itself over all of us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Icons teach us to commune with Christ, the Saints, and each other.

My family and I have recently embarked on a journey to join the Orthodox Christian tradition.  Our path in arriving here is an interesting one and will the the subject of some future post I'm sure.  This journey has been an enlightening and surprising one.  Many of the strange and ancient traditions, coming from a protestant perspective I was sure I was going to hate, have actually taken me by surprise and served not only to cause me to fall in love with the Orthodox Church more and more, but have also deepened my faith and my relationship with Christ.  One of the most interesting of these is the Orthodox tradition of icons.

In my protestant turned neo-Calvinist understanding of Christianity, icons never really entered the picture (See what I did there?).  Icons from my perspective were strange bits of idolatry that my greatest exposure to was in the Mexican section of the grocery store with those odd Roman Catholic candles that were right next to the corn tortillas.  The idolatrous label that I had accepted toward icons pretty much prevented me from exploring the concept any deeper. Why would I entertain this idolatry? I already knew enough to reject it on its face.  Besides, as a good little Calvinist I already had my theology all the way figured out and all I needed was Scripture.  Icons were minimally a form of Christian art, but the incorporation of them into worship was likely a heresy.  This was my take on the issue, although I will admit that in the two or three years prior to my first setting foot into an Orthodox Church I also went through a great doctrinal softening, so to speak, and even an abandoning of many of my hyper Calvinistic tenants.

We arrived at Orthodoxy by means of some friends who's journey intrigued us, but as I've illustrated, I arrived with some reservations.  We took the inquirer's class offered by St Elijah's, and taught by Deacon Ezra.  Deacon Ezra is a great teacher who isn't afraid to use some really big ideas to get a point across.  Being a former Baptist minister, his own history and his excellent teaching helped put me at ease a little as he presented some of these very new (to me) ideas.  I quickly was able to grasp the idea that icons were not idols.

My understanding of icons began with them simply being additional tools used to tell the Gospel, and the history of the Church.

"Icons do with color what Scripture does with words."

This quote made sense to me.  Orthodoxy had already validated many fundamental shifts in my theological paradigms that I had been entertaining, one being the authoritative nature of the Church and of it's tradition in the keeping of the doctrines and of the pure Gospel, and in this context icons simply do as Scripture does to a similar effect.  Now I was beginning to be intrigued, but I had no idea what was in store.

As we continued in some classes on the subject the concept of icon's was explored further. When God says in Genesis 1:26 "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness," the word in greek for "image" is the same word we get the word "icon" from. An icon differs from a picture, or an idol, or even a painting. An Icon is the likeness of the person in the Icon. It is similar to the person and serves as a physical window to a spiritual reality. The saint in the icon did not cease to exist, we simply cannot see him or her at this time, and the Icon helps to remedy that. The person being depicted in the Icon is real, existing in the invisible reality that we are blinded to by our physical condition.

As soon as this idea hit me I looked around the room, which was a chapel in our church filled with icons, and the room came to LIFE!  All of the sudden the presence of those Saints, and of Christ himself, surrounded me like the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12.  Deacon Ezra says that during worship it isn't uncommon for the veil that separates us from the invisible to be momentarily parted, and I believe that is what I began to experience.  As I gazed upon each icon I saw past the wood and the paint to the spiritual reality that was the person who's likeness the icon was communicating.  As I looked upon Christ and Mary I was almost overwhelmed, and even as I looked upon the saints that I was unfamiliar with I somehow sensed their presence.  Deacon Ezra explained that we are living inside the icon of the Transfiguration of Christ, Christ manifests the invisible reality of His Kingdom right here into our physical world.

The next Sunday at the Divine Liturgy the experience resumed, Christ and the Saints joined us in a very real and visible, if not tangible way.  I was now experiencing a fullness of the Church that I had previously not even been able to imagine.  Christ was the focus and I was worshiping him along with the Saints and with every other person in attendance. Even the work of the priests took on a whole new meaning as their colorful vestments and their purposeful movements caused them to create a living transition between the physical world and the spiritual reality they and the icons were leading us to participate in.  This was amazing to me, I was awestruck at moments and almost welcomed the fleeting nature of the revelation occurring around me as it seemed it could at any moment be simply too much to take in.

Divine Liturgy at St. Elijah's in OKC

I now understood why many in the Orthodox Tradition venerate or pay special honor to the icons, even kissing them.  This was not idol worship, they were simply honoring and communing with their Savior and with the Saints that have kept the Church throughout history.  Just as we might greet, hug, and honor a wise, loved, and respected elder as we pass by the pew where he sits, in fact, exactly like that.  This honor doesn't detract from our worship from God, it adds to it.

Then a thought hit me that changed me.

It is amazing and incredible and fulfilling for me to be able to commune with Christ and the departed Saints in the way that the icons facilitate. This experience edifies me. Which is good, I need to be edified, but many may argue that they experience similar things in other methods of worship, through song, speaking in tongues, even through a powerful sermon. And while edification of the self is good, shouldn't we be seeking to edify the whole church? Icons may edify the individual, but how do they edify the Church? I had learned to experience the iconography of the Church to aid in my worship, but it occurred to me that the icons were also teaching me so much more.

If we are made in the likeness of God, as Genesis 1:26 says, more literally we ARE icons of God. Each person is made in the likeness of God, just as each icon is made in the likeness of the person in the icon. When I look upon the wood and paint of the icon, it teaches me to see beyond to the spiritual truth and the person that the icon is communicating.  If every individual is an icon of God, what if I began to look at other people in the same way that I looked at icons?  What if I saw them as more than what they were presenting to me in the physical, but looked beyond to the spiritual reality that was just as much a part of their being as is their physical appearance?  I could now begin to see the whole person.

Icons have not only taught me to commune with Christ and the Saints in a way that I had never before considered, they not only created a fullness of Church that I had never imagined could be possible, but they had now taught me to see other people in a way where the likeness of God in them was plain and apparent, no matter their physical appearance, or even my personal opinion of them. Try hating a person who's mere presence communicates to you the likeness of God, try defrauding them, try hurting them.  In a very real way icons are teaching me to love others in a superior way.

Once you see it, you can't un-see it.