Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ, the Law, and the Gospel

It's easy to forgive someone who's done nothing wrong.
The next time you need to forgive me, for instance, I will do my best to make your job easier by pointing out that:
  • you're making a lot of fuss over nothing . . . 
  • because whatever I did was really not all that bad . . . 
  • and besides, I've been sick -- sick enough that you can't blame me for my actions (which really weren't all that bad, remember?). 
And given my near-infinite capacity to justify anything and everything I've ever done, it would be easy to conclude that forgiveness itself is no big deal -- not when it involves offenses so picayune as my own.
You, however, might disagree.
Yes, you might point out that what I've done may be "no big deal" to me -- but that's because I'm not the one who got hurt.
What's more, my attempts to make myself look better have made you look worse -- that in minimizing the evil I've done, I've minimized your goodness in forgiving that evil.
In short, I've offended you three times: once in what I did, twice in denying it was wrong, and thrice in trivializing the cost of your forgiveness.
No, I don't appreciate your mercy -- not really, not until I realize my need for mercy . . . 
The same as I don't appreciate the Gospel -- not really, not until I realize how far short I've come of the Law.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

This week's lesson: the Law of God and the Law of Christ

Every church is an experiment.

No sooner did we start baptizing Gentiles, after all, then we started arguing about the extent to which they should be Jewish.
  • The Ebionites said they should be totally Jewish -- and yes, that included circumcision.
  • The Gnostics (some of them) said they should ignore Judaism -- and yes, that even included its laws against adultery.
  • And the rest of us stammered, and stuttered, and muttered that Gentiles could learn a lot from the Jews -- I mean, it was clear to one and all that nine of the Ten Commandments were still in force . . . 
Though some said the Fourth Commandment was an Eternal Principle that should be kept . . .

While others said was a Cultural Artifact that should be ignored . . .

And still others said it was a Cultural Artifact pointing to an Eternal Principle -- and so long as we remember that Eternal Principle, then we are free to keep or ignore the Sabbath as we see fit!

In short, Christians have disagreed on the Sabbath -- just as they have disagreed on polygamy, the role of women, same-sex marriage, and a host of other issues.

And in each case, the same texts that one side views as Eternal Principles that must be kept are dismissed by the other as Cultural Artifacts that no longer apply.

All of which is another way of saying that hundreds of different churches deal with God's law in hundreds of different ways . . . and that's why:
  • If you want to know what happens when a church decides that marriage is an eternal contract that cannot be broken, then you don't need to guess. No, all you need to do is look around.
  • If you want to know what happens when a church decides that marriage is a Cultural Artifact that can be discarded, then you don't need to guess. No, all you need to do is look around.
  • And if you think that some of the Bible's laws are absolutely ridiculous because nobody in their right mind would even think of doing something like that . . . then look around, and you'll find a church that didn't just allow it, but turned it into ritual.
No, you can learn about theology, just by watching what happens when that theology is turned into practice.
That's why every church is an experiment.
That's why you can learn from other church's experiments.
And that's why you may want to ask . . . 
Just what are they learning from your's?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ, the end of the law

It's easy enough to come up with a Utopia.

It's staying in one that's tough.

Consider the story in Genesis 2-3 -- the story Paul ponders in Romans 7. "In the beginning, everything is good. Everyone is virtuous. And nobody needs forgiveness . . .

In short, the Garden of Eden is perfect; it's a Utopia.

But then "the woman saw the fruit of the tree was good for good and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" -- or as Paul puts it, "sin seized the opportunity afforded by the commandment, and produced every kind of coveting."

And the rest, you know . . .

For as Paul points out, the story of the Fall is now our story too. Yes, every individual, every political movement, and every religious reform begins with high hopes and shining ideals.

But every individual, every political movement, and every religious reform soon realizes it has "the desire to do what is good, but cannot carry it out. For [we] do not do the good [we] want to do, but the evil [we] do not want to do -- this [we] keep on doing."

That's why every Utopia ends up lacking one thing:

Utopians.

And that's why there's nothing Utopian about forgiveness.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ's death and the law

It always looks easy on the map.

Always.

Ask how to drive from my house (in Oregon) to my eldest daughter's house (in Alabama), for instance, and Google will spit out the answer in seconds: east on I-84 to I-80, I-80 get you to I-29, I-29 hands off to I-70, then add I-57, I-24, I-65 . . . and in just 40-hours, you're there.

Simple.

Likewise, it's not that difficult to come up with a "map" to a wonderful life. The Torah offers one; so does Buddhism's Noble Eight-fold Path. And grocery-store check-outs are full of magazines that promise quick and easy ways to lose weight, eliminate clutter, and raise wonderful children (who will all be thin and clutter-free).

Simple.

But if you've ever been on a road-trip, then you know that following a map can be . . . interesting. Yes, there will be detours, breakdowns, misunderstandings (both intentional and inadvertent), and long stretches of road that will make you feel like turning back.

Always.

That's why a map is not enough -- any map, whether it be AAA or the Torah.

Yes, that's why you need someone to ride along.