Sunday, August 31, 2014

This week's lesson (August 30-September 5): the law of God

Think of God's law as a conspiracy.

Every group has its own way of doing things, after all -- and everyone who joins that group soon starts doing things that way too.
  • If none of the other girls at school like of My Little Pony, for instance, then you learn to leave Dazzle Surprise at home.
  • If all the other guys at school wear brown Carhartt jackets, then it's easy to guess what you're going to want for Christmas.
  • If the people around you all believe that speed limits are for losers, then its only a matter of time before your car insurance rates start going up. 
And you can call it a custom, call it a law, call it "the way things ought to be" -- but you don't reject the way your group does things.
Not easily.
Not without some help.
No, you need to find other people who marches to that different drum -- other people who look at Ponyland, Carhartt jackets, and speed limits in the same, subversive way as yourself . . . 
And who encourage you to keep doing it too.
The name for such a group -- a group with an agenda that is feared, despised, or opposed by the majority?
A conspiracy.
That's why God's people get together -- yes, we huddle in our catacombs and cathedrals, and we whisper to each other the revolutionary idea that promises should be kept . . . and the elderly should be honored . . . and everyone should get a day off.
Sound reasonable?
Not to some people -- maybe not even to most.
But if God's law sounds reasonable to you . . . 
Then welcome to the conspiracy. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

This week's lesson (August 23-29): our mission

Nothing's more contagious than enthusiasm.

And yes, you may pride yourself on your ironic detachment.

You may treat every cause with an inordinate amount of sarcasm.

In fact, you may be the kind of person who can't read the Declaration of Independence without adding subversive quote marks (as in, "We hold these 'truths' to be self-evident . . .").

Fine. No problem. I applaud your post-modern sensibility.

But let the right subject come up -- something you know about, something you care about, something that could be anything from movie adaptations of Marvel comics to the finer points of local-sourced cuisine . . . 

Anyway, whatever it is, it turns you into one of those arm-waving, collar-grabbing, spittle-flying geeks WHO POST THEIR OPINIONS IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

You know -- the kind of person you'd mock if they were that committed to any other subject.  

Again, that's fine. No problem. I applaud both your enthusiasm, and your willingness to share that enthusiasm with others.

But if you're going to be enthusiastic about something (and most people are).

And if you want to share that enthusiasm with others (and most enthusiasts do).

Then why not be enthusiastic about something important?

Just saying.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This week's lesson (August 16-22): the Church

Everyone thinks they're David.

Even Goliath.

When I teach high school, for instance, it's easy for me to see myself as the underdog, valiantly doing battle against the giants of Ignorance, Sloth, and Adolescent Brain Chemistry.

Unfortunately, my students don't see it that way -- no, in their eyes, they are the plucky (yet hopelessly outnumbered) Rebel Alliance, bravely defending themselves against the unprovoked attacks of the Evil Empire . . .

Which would be me.

In short, we tend to see ourselves as David.

We tend to see our opponent as Goliath.

And regardless of the issue -- whether its evolution, foreign policy,  or the ever-vexing question of applause in church -- we don't think we can afford to compromise, to negotiate, or even to try and understand the other's point of view.

No, we don't want to give up any advantage -- not when the fight is already unfair.

And some fights are unfair; some fights do pit the weak against the strong . . .

But the next time I'm ready to use my sling-and-stone, it's worth stopping a moment to reflect -- to ask myself why someone who's bigger and stronger and nastier than me now sees me as a threat.

I mean, I know I'm David -- that's obvious!

So why does he think I'm Goliath?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

This week's lesson: living like Christ

Love is tough.

I don't just mean that it's tough to love other people. (And if you think loving your enemies is difficult, then just try loving some of your friends!)

But if love was just a matter of thinking nice thoughts, saying nice things, and inviting people to join you in the parlor for a nice cup of comfrey tea and a digestive biscuit . . .
  • Then love would be nice . . .
  • And love would be kind . . .
  • And love would certainly be comforting . . . 
But it wouldn't be God's kind of love.

God doesn't always treat us like children, after all -- children who need to be comforted.

No, there are times God treats us like adults:
  • Adults who need to be challenged.
  • Adults who need to be confronted.
  • Adults who need to grow up.
That's why God's infinite love sometimes leads Him to ask awkward questions . . . to give awkward answers . . . and to place us in awkward situations that we would not have chosen for ourselves.

In short, there are times when God's love is not very nice -- when it stirs up all kinds of trouble that nice people would rather avoid.

And if it leads us to act that way too . . .

Then love may be tough.

But if the Cross is any guide, then it's going to be a lot tougher on us than on them.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

This week's lesson: growing up in Christ

It takes a long time to grow up.

As a child, after all, you could exercise, eat right, and "think tall" every day -- but those pencil-marks on the doorframe still didn't go up fast enough. No, aside from the occasional growth-spurt, you had to settle for a steady, slow growth to maturity.

Likewise, we can do all the right things spiritually -- we can pray, read the Bible, and serve others . . . we never seem to mature fast enough; we never seem to see the growth we'd like in wisdom, love, and joy. In fact, even our "spiritual growth-spurts" seem to leave us with little more than the awareness of just how far we have to go.

That's why quick-fixes are so popular; that's why we're fascinated by ideas such as "the Second Blessing," "the Baptism of the Holy Spirit," and "the Latter Rain." Like spiritual steroids, they promise instant growth, incredible power, and a quick fix to all our troubles.

Yes, they promise -- but do they deliver?

That's why I keep coming back to Eugene Peterson's definition of the Christian life as "a long obedience in the same direction." Sanctification is like marriage, in other words: the little things we do every day often mean more than the big things we do now and then.

To be sure, this kind of growth is slow -- painfully slow; that's why it's easy to get impatient.

But God gives me all the time I need for this kind of growth.

In fact, I have all eternity.