Monday, August 31, 2009

Is He Your Co-Pilot?

I loved Rick Warren’s tweet from earlier on today. It simply stated:

When a plane goes thru violent turbulence at 35,000 ft, you don’t bail out. You remain calm and trust the Pilot! Ps56:3

For those of you might be wondering, Psalm 56: 3 actually says: When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. If the truth be told, it really isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve been in a few ‘hair-raising’ plane encounters myself (and you wonder why I’m bald), and my initial instinctual response certainly wasn’t calm and trust. Why? Maybe because it isn’t natural to be flying at 35,000 ft through the air at almost the speed of sound in a thin metallic tube, knowing that you have absolutely no control over what happens while you’re up there. Heck, for most of the journey you don’t even know exactly where you are or what direction you’re headed in since you have no horizon or frame of reference. But that’s exactly the point isn’t it?

I’m always bemused at the FAA regulations that require flight attendants to perform a safety demonstration with life jackets or “floatable” seat cushions. Seriously, when’s the last time you read about people rescued from a plane crash on water who were found holding onto their seat cushions and expressing deep gratitude for their “flotation device”? Or when was the last time a plane crashed into the side of a mountain and people who had donned their life jackets came out unscathed and singing the praises of life jackets? The fact is, when a plane’s in trouble at 35,000 ft above sea level, there’s precious little you can do besides trust the pilot (and maybe occupy your time adjusting the fit of your arms through your floatation device/ seat).

Back to the story of one of my plane encounters. We were cruising at, yes you guessed it, 35,000 ft above sea level when I noticed smoke coming out of the air-conditioning vent. Now I don’t know about you, but when I see smoke at that altitude I generally don’t get calm, trusting feelings. Then the plane began to descend at an incredibly steep angle and the cabin lights went out. Suddenly panic set in and people began to scream (I imagine if bailing out had been an option at this point many would have gladly obliged). Being the sharp witted, brave individual that I am, and realizing that these could be my last few moments on earth, I did the most appropriate thing under the circumstances… I joined in the screaming. Except I wasn’t screaming arbitrarily, but rather, was screaming out prayers calling on the name of Jesus. I trusted the Pilot as well as the pilot. Needless to say, we landed safely, albeit on a foamed tarmac in Farmington, New Mexico (our scenic detour en route to Los Angeles).

I’ve seen bumper stickers that say “Jesus is my co-pilot.” The heck with that, I’m letting Him fly the darn plane and I’m sitting in the back!!! Just my two cents.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Christian Mystics

No, it's not a contradiction in terms, and no I don't believe it's just a semantic misunderstanding. To be quite candid I'm a little peeved at how little attention we pay to the realities of the world we live in. We are "salt" and "light" in a dark and 'tasteless' world, yet we'd rather huddle in groups of like-minded people, speaking a language that only makes sense to us. Yesterday I posted a quote from Donald Miller on my facebook status which went like this: "You cannot be a Christian without being a mystic." In response to my effort, I got a number of irate and frustrated comments (even personal notes) about dispensing with all the extra terminology and letting our language be just Jesus and nothing else. I'm mystified (pun intended) by those responses since, according to the Cambridge Advanced Learners English Dictionary, the definition of mystic bears out Donald's contention. In case you don't want to click on the hyperlink I've taken the time to give you the definition below:

mysticism [noun] the belief that there is hidden meaning in life or that each human being can unite with God

mystic [noun] someone who attempts to be united with God through prayer

I'd say it takes a real mystic to believe in the Trinity. Wouldn't you? I mean, we believe (as Christ Followers) that the Trinity is three distinct persons who are One God. If that isn't a mystical idea I don't know what is. If you don't believe that there's hidden meaning to life, meaning that goes far beyond the understanding of our finite minds, then it would be impossible for you to wrap your mind around the concept of a Triune God. Consequently, if you don't accept the idea of a Triune God then it would be impossible for you to embrace Christianity in it's fullness. Last I checked, prayer is one of the central building blocks upon which our faith is established. The idea that man communicates with an unseen God through prayer, who in turn responds to our prayers, is the very essence of mysticism.

I guess we'd all do well to educate ourselves enough to be able to hold conversations in the real world without becoming defensive about words that actually define our faith even though they may have been stultified by, shall we say, less savory approaches to God. As for me and my house, we're glad to be Christian Mystics. Just my two cents.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

I love the idea that Christianity, at its very core, follows the elements of a good story. In other words, to understand the appeal and embrace with brio the necessity of following Christ, we are better served understanding the elements of a good story. If, the journey to God-ordained purpose ineluctably goes through a personal relationship with Jesus, then it’s essential that we understand what that entails and why. I’ve talked before about our fascination with stories that have conflict and adventure, and how they appeal to us so much more than the uninspiring, placid storyline. In understanding why that is so let’s examine the elements of a good story: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.

Now, I understand that there is a segment of Christianity that considers it their m├ętier to oppose any suggestion that conflict and hardship are essential elements of the Christian story, but their contention is made vacuous by their inability to explain why the heart responds to these elements of a good story and why the Scriptures are replete with such examples. To deny these elements of story as being essential to faith is to bowdlerize the Bible to suit their interpretation of how life should be. Every good story has a setting: setting gives context to the story. The setting for the Christian story is our created world in which God designed us to function as humans in harmony with others. We know that it’s impossible to be fully human on your own since, by definition being human involves interaction with others on an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level.

Having established the setting, the next element in the story is conflict. Conflict in the story creates tension, uncertainty, and suspense. Where did conflict originate from? From Original sin. The rebellion against God explains why humans experience conflict in our lives. There is no other source that we can point to as being the origin of conflict other than rebellion against God. Addictions, loneliness, pride, war are all conflicts in the human story and our hearts respond to the conflict in books or movies because there is conflict in our lives. We understand these elements because we experience them. Next, every great story has a climax. Have you ever left a movie thinking “that was anticlimactic.”? The reason is because the story probably didn’t resolve and the biggest highlights of the movie were what you saw in the trailer advertising the movie. There was never a point of climax in the story. Climax is where a point of decision determines the end of the story.

There is a point of decision that every human heart comes to, but many go through life attempting to ignore this climax to their story. The reality however, is that Christianity offers a climax to our story. Here’s the story in a nutshell: Sin separated man from God. God created a way out for man so that his story may resolve and we may have the opportunity to be reconciled with Him: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Man must make a decision to either accept or deny the option to seek and embrace Jesus’ sacrifice. There is a good or a bad resolution to the story depending on the decision we make. Our decisions are instrumental to the way our story turns out.

Having understood the setting, embraced the conflict, and pursued the climax, Christianity also offers a resolution to the story of humanity: Forgiveness from original sin and an eternal home reconciled with our heavenly Father. While every religion tries to offer a cynosure, none of them actually fulfill these elements that meet the requirements of the human heart as well as match the facts of reality. That’s why Christianity makes sense, because the elements of story are deeply embedded in the human psyche.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Are you in touch with your governor?

Yesterday I talked about seeking truth from the Scriptures and hiding it in your heart so that you can live godly. I also highlighted three absolute changes that must occur in our lives through the process of imbibing sound doctrine. Today we’ll unpack those changes in a little more detail.

Consciousness – this involves knowledge and awareness. While you can keep the law by “accident” there is no moral virtue in doing so. For instance, a man who enjoys driving at 50 mph all the time will be within the law when driving in a 55 mph simply because he happens to enjoy driving at a speed that is within the posted speed limit. However, if he was driving in a 25 mph zone he would be guilty of violating the law. For him to achieve moral virtue as a driver and always drive within the speed limits he must become conscious of and cognizant with the traffic laws.

Conviction – This is a matter of depth and intensity. It is one thing to be conscious or aware that a certain thing is right, it is entirely another to have a conviction about it. It’s a lot easier for us to compromise our knowledge than it is for us to act against our convictions. We are all conscious of the hazards of drunk driving and we all wish our roads were completely devoid of drunk drivers. Few of us have a conviction to ensure that our roads are clear of drunk drivers though. The organization MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) however, is fully committed to the process of eliminating drunk drivers from our roads. Their convictions come largely because they’ve lost a child at the hands of a drunk driver. Most Christians have a conviction about fidelity in marriage largely because, in addition to being conscious of the Scriptures stand on adultery, many of us have seen the ineluctable negative results of infidelity as it affects whole families.

Conscience – Our conscience acts as a kind of governor upon our behavior. Maria in The Sound of Music was a governess to the children, and she helped curtail their excesses and teach them the decorum of good behavior. Large moving trucks also have governors to help curtail the excesses of speed and ensure that a moving truck is used for exactly that purpose as opposed to a missile. Unfortunately the dictates of our conscience can sometimes be misleading depending on what our convictions are. The only way the conscience will function in a godly way is if it is influenced by godly convictions. To gain godly consciences, our consciousness of what is right and wrong must be sharpened. This involves the renewing of the mind and is a matter of imbibing doctrinal truth.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Seek and Hide!

I bet some of you are enjoying a little chuckle at my expense right now as you indulgently smile at my turn of phrase. “Aw, how cute” you’re probably saying, “He’s originally Nigerian and he doesn’t realize it’s called hide and seek.” Well just hold your bucking broncos for a minute, this is no error as I meant to say seek and hide! I’m not talking about the age-old game of hide and seek, I’m talking about the game of life that’s impossible to play with any real degree of success unless you understand how to seek and hide. Huh??? I’ll spare you further agony and give you the scoop. Psalm 119: 11 boldly declares, “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”

With all the protean leadership styles that exist in the Church today, little emphasis seems to be placed on holiness as a lifestyle choice, and while our sedulous pursuit of relevance, authenticity, and servant hood are commendable, the real truth is that they are all an exercise in futility if they are not accompanied by a true commitment to holiness. According to the Psalm above, in order to live a holy life we must give ourselves wholly to seeking truth in the Scriptures and then hiding it in our hearts so that we can apply it to every situation and circumstance in our lives. The penury of a deep understanding of the Scriptures often leaves us angry and bitter at God when things don’t work out in our lives the way we expect them to. But if the truth be told there are certain things we must understand if we are to successfully seek and hide the word of God in our hearts.

To live godly lives there are three essential changes that must occur in our lives. These are consciousness, conviction, and conscience. These changes can only occur though, through making godly choices. Consciousness essentially requires that we become aware of certain things so that we can apply them. If you don’t know the rules, you can’t intentionally keep the rules. Conviction requires more than just knowledge of the rules, but a deeper commitment to living by them. Conscience is the ‘governor’ that applies a sense of ‘stop and go’ that influences our choices. Tomorrow I’ll take the time to elaborate on these in more detail so make sure you come back!