Thursday, February 29, 2024

A Different God

Yesterday, we asked - but what if I don't want to go to the Father? What if I want to choose a different God?

You can. The Lord gives humans the freedom to choose, but if you're looking for a "different" god, there is none more different than the Lord Almighty. He is truly unlike any other God. 

The Lord created the world for the purpose of walking in it with His creation; there is no other creation story that suggests anything close to this. In fact, most god stories use the world for either warfare or punishment. 

The Lord loves the world He created; the other gods seem to tolerate the world, at best, and they use it as a place to release their emotional energies, for good or for bad. In many cases, the other gods use the world as a trophy, as a prize for whatever game they are playing in their god-realm. And let's say it again - the Lord's "god-realm" is the world; He wants to be here. 

The Lord loves us; He loves us so much that He sent His Son as a sacrifice so that we didn't have to spend our entire lives trying to appease Him, as the other gods demand. The other gods are constantly judging our performance, always changing their behavior based on a whim. God's posture toward us has always been love. 

As a reminder, I'm using the word "god" here, but what we're really talking about is any sort of worldview that attempts to account for the existence of the world as we know it. That means, yes, I'm talking about science, too. The science myths have nothing on the creation story of the Lord Almighty. 

And all of these things that we're talking about that set God apart, these are matters of truth - a truth that the world has trouble trusting because it doesn't understand what truth is any more. 

But that's precisely why we have to keep declaring it. 

When we declare the truth of the Christian faith, it is an absolute truth in a post-truth world. I get it. The world doesn't seem to care. It doesn't want to hear it. But that's not entirely true. 

The world doesn't want to hear the biblical truth; they want to hear the Gospel truth. Whatever aversion the world may claim to have to Christ and Christianity, they still actually love a story about redemption and grace and love. And so when we think about what it means to declare the truth of our faith, we have to start with the Gospel truth - the truth that reveals the loving, merciful, gracious heart of God...not by tolerance and whatever else the world thinks "love" is these days, but in the creation and foundation of the world itself, which is rooted in the very heart of God. 

There's an old saying that says no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care, and this is true about the Christian faith as well - nobody cares about coming to the Father (i.e. heaven or hell) until they know how much the Father loves them. And this is the truth that we're not talking about enough. This is the truth that we're not putting at the center of our discussions enough. 

We're out there trying to tell others they have to choose God because they don't want to go to Hell and He will send them there...what kind of God is that that someone should love Him? No wonder the world is turning away. 

But what if we tell them about the foundation of all things, the voice that speaks into the formless and void so that He has a place to walk with His creation in the cool of the garden? There's a God I want to go to - the One who wants to come to me. 

There's plenty of truth about God that even a post-truth world is interested in. We just have to recognize it and start to speak it.

Because it is this truth that makes our God the "different kind of god" the world really is looking for.   

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

To the Father

As I wrote the last words of yesterday's blog, a thought came into my mind, and I think it's important to take this little detour. 

Jesus said no one comes to the Father except through Him, and I can almost hear the world saying, "What if I don't want to go to the Father?" 

Seems simple enough, right? If the world doesn't care about our heaven, about eternal life, about the goodness of God and doesn't want any part of it, then the message of Jesus doesn't matter, does it?

And let's be clear about something else - God doesn't say these other gods that we read about in the Bible don't exist. Paul doesn't even tell the Romans the gods they are worshiping in the areopagus are fake. Rather, the consistent message is that they aren't good gods. The Lord Almighty is a good, loving, benevolent, powerful God and there is no other god like Him. 

But there are other gods. 

These other gods all have their own stories and their own promises. There are promises of reincarnation and a billion life cycles to attain Nirvana. There are promises of escaping this world and no longer being bound by it. There are promises of thousands of virgins. The god of science promises blissful, simple non-existence - that you just die and that's it. Nothing more. There are as many different promises as there are gods, and if that's the god you want to believe in, that's the promise you get. 

So if someone says they aren't interested in the promise of the Lord God - what if I don't want to go to the Father? - then what's the Gospel answer to that? 

The simple answer is to say that they get to go to Hell. That the other gods may have offers on the table, but the Lord Almighty is Almighty Indeed and His promise trumps every other one, to the point that if He determines to send you to Hell, you're going. Whether you believe in Him or not. 

That's the answer that Christians have given for a long time. It's the answer that makes the world bristle. The problem with that answer, though, is that it brings us back to the question about truth...and a world that isn't interested in truth. 

How can God claim to have the only possible truth - especially when His truth doesn't look as plain and obvious as, say, science? 

The world struggles to believe that there is a God so powerful, a truth so real, that they will actually go to Hell if they don't believe it. They struggle to believe there even is a place such a Hell (which is really a state of being more than an actual physical location, I believe). They struggle to believe there could be a truth that exists outside of their believing in it - if they don't believe it, can it even be real? 

If I don't want to go to the Father, then what legitimate power does the so-called Father have over me that He could send me to some so-called Hell? 

And that is precisely why getting the truth part of the Gospel right - and not shying away from it - is so important. 

Because our God truly is unlike any other. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Gospel Truth

To start talking about the Gospel as truth in a post-truth world, we have to understand that the problem with the Gospel isn't new. That is, the Gospel truth was always offensive to the world. That's what got our Savior killed. 

That's what got the masses chasing Him, trying to throw Him off a cliff. That's what got the Pharisees sitting around, scheming up a way to get rid of Him. That's what got the Roman guards to march Him out to a hill called Golgotha and crucify the Son of God. None of that happened because these persons didn't like - even love - God; it happened because the message of Christ - the truth that He lived - was offensive. 

It did not get better after His death, and certainly, not after His resurrection. 

And yet, this is the first thing the world tells us today - that we can't talk about Jesus or present the Gospel truth because it's "offensive." 

It's offensive for a few reasons. 

The first is that we don't like anyone telling us that our good is not good enough. As I've mentioned several times in this space, most of us consider ourselves better than average when it comes to goodness (and of course, mathematically, it is impossible for that to be true). The Gospel truth says that we are all sinners and there is not one of us righteous, not even one, but in a world in which we are all convinced that we are fundamentally good persons, being told that we are not is offensive. 

The second is closely related to the first - we don't like being told that we can't save ourselves. In our highly-individualistic culture, we have been given reason to believe that we are our own savior. Our lives are in our own control, and we make of them whatever we want them to be by our own hard work and investment. This is even more true in a post-truth world where we're allowed to tell whatever story we want about our life and expect, even demand, others to buy into it. No matter how ridiculous. If they don't, they are obviously full of "hate" and are the reason the world sucks. (Christianity tells us the world sucks because we are all sinners, every one of us. But I digress.) 

The third spins off of that - we don't like that, if we aren't our own Savior, that there might be another one. Nobody's going to tell us what to do. Nobody's going to make us buy into their little story, their little myth that they believe in to make themselves feel better. 

Interesting note: for as often as the world protests against religion and declares, "Nobody's going to tell me what to believe!" it's funny to see how quickly they believe whatever the thing they do believe in tells them, whether that be science or media or politics or whatever. Someone is telling you what to believe, no matter who you are; the only question is, who are you letting tell you what to believe? 

But what's most offensive, and at the root of all of this, is that the Gospel truth declares an exclusivity - an absoluteness to its truth that the world just can't swallow any more. 

Jesus is the only way? That seems really "hateful." Maybe even "racist." It certainly seems "elitist." And, the world says, it doesn't mesh with the image of the all-accepting, all-loving, all-welcoming Jesus who ate with sinners and washed the feet of His disciples and talked to a Samaritan woman. This Jesus that we preach as so radical could not possibly also be so dogmatic as to claim an exclusivity to the Christian faith - that it could be the only way. 

What about everyone else in the world, created in the image of God (whether they believe that or not) who doesn't believe in Him? Is He really just going to send them to Hell? Not much of a "loving" God. 

That's really how the world has turned so many Christians away from the Gospel truth and toward a more liberal embrace of tolerance masked as grace. They've told us that our Jesus can't be loving and exclusive, and we have essentially said - okay, He is loving. And we push aside the truth that He spoke, which was in no uncertain terms. 

I Am the way, the truth and the life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through me. 

So what now? 

Monday, February 26, 2024

A Post-Truth World

We left off last week talking about the truth of Christianity, in companionship with its grace. This was one of the criticisms leveled at the "He gets us" ads on television - that they were too much grace/acceptance and not enough Gospel truth. 

And I said that living in a post-truth world, it's...complicated. The Gospel truth is complicated today in ways that it wasn't as complicated previously. 

I guess the place to start is to talk about what I mean when I say that the world today is post-truth. 

Here's what I mean: 

Our greatest fights today are over what truth actually is. What "the" truth is. We are wrestling with a culture that is hesitant to definitively define anything, where truth is whatever you claim it to be, and where authorities are questioned in a way that they weren't for much of human history. 

If you look at the headlines, especially in politics, you'll see that we aren't a people who talk about policy and common good any more; we're too busy trying to find a starting point for conversation. And that starting point is truth. 

See, we can't talk about anything, as human beings, unless we have a mutual, agreed-upon starting point for the conversation. Want to talk politics? Maybe you think it's easy to start by saying that Joe Biden is the current president. But then come the accusations that the elections were stolen, our democracy is a sham, and his presidency is illegitimate. We can't have a conversation about politics if we do not fundamentally agree that the process is trustworthy - i.e. a true process. 

Want to have a conversation about gender roles or the worth of a woman in the marketplace (that women should receive the same pay as men for the same work, let's say)? Well, we can't. Because we first have to define what a "woman" is and our current culture doesn't have a definitive definition. Rather, everyone is allowed to define for themselves what being a man or a woman means to them and the rest of the world is expected to go along with it. So we have biological males who believe the "truth" is that they are women (and biological women who believe the "truth" is that they are men), and we can't have a conversation about women in the workplace because there's no agreement on what a woman is. 

We hear a lot about minorities, but who is a minority? How does one become a minority? Is it statistical? Is it social? You may say the minority is the group whose power is taken away by another group or is the group that is the victim of oppression by another group, but...that's all perspective. There are many folk who are seen as the majority by others who feel like the minority because of the way the perceived minority treats them. So who's right? In a post-truth world, they both are. 

Language is used as a weapon here. Whoever shouts the loudest usually wins. If you can get the most voices in your side, then your side must be "truth." Truth, as a concept, has become a matter of popular opinion - whatever most persons buy into is the "truth" that we must live by. 

Here's another recent example: (and yes, I know I'm ruffling feathers. Truth does that) In 2020 when the pandemic was newly upon us, the experts in the medical field - not the political talking heads, although they agreed, but the real experts - said that research showed that cloth masks would be ineffective in limiting the spread of the virus. There was massive public outcry because most of us felt like we needed to do something besides just sit idly by and wait for our grandmothers to die, so after a ton of pushback from the public, they changed the message - wearing a mask will help. The science didn't change, but the "truth" changed somehow. Those who held onto the science, the documented research and decades upon decades of evidence were called conspiracy theorists, at best; at worst, they were told they were selfish and hated everyone else's grandmothers and that the deaths were their fault. Language was being used to force compliance with an asserted, but not proven, "truth." (For what it's worth, more studies came out a year or so ago showing, again, that our masks did not make a difference and were ineffective, but during the most recent surge, there were still many crying out for new mask mandates...and the news barely covered the new reports showing their ineffectiveness.) 

But that's where we're at - truth is whatever the masses say it is. No longer are we a people who listen to reason, who look at the evidence, who believe what we see, who believe those who have invested their lives in things we haven't even thought about before; we are a people coerced by the noise into compliance, and truth has become a construct, not a given. 

So what does that do to the Gospel? 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Cannibals

Jesus said, "Take this and eat, for this is my body." Then, He poured the wine and said, "And this, and drink, for this is my blood." 

And the world looked at the Christians and asked...are you cannibals?

This was a very real criticism that Christians faced very early on, and from time to time since then. We talk about Communion, and we talk about the body and the blood of Christ in the emblems, and this doesn't make sense to the world. What does it mean that we are eating our God? 

But of course, we know that that's not really it. None of us thinks that we are actually eating the real flesh or drinking the real blood of Christ; we understand it as a metaphor for accepting the sacrifice that He offered on our behalf, the death He suffered for us. We take this meal and eat because for us, it it the bread of Heaven and the gift of salvation in tangible, taste-able form. It's a way to remember. 

As I think about this criticism, though - that we are cannibals - I think there's an easier way to explain what's happening to a world that doesn't understand substitutionary atonement. A way that doesn't require a depth of theological thinking. A way that might help them understand what's happening at the Table. 

In the beginning, God created man in His image. He stooped down and formed man in the dust, then breathed into him the very Spirit of God. The very substance of our being is holy. 

And the blood and the body of Christ, in the emblems, is holy. 

The taking of the emblems keeps us connected to our substance, keeps us growing in holiness and holy things. 

So essentially, what I'm saying is - we are essentially emotionally-complicated sourdough starters. 

That's why the bread is unleavened. That's why there's no yeast in it. That's why God warned His people in the Old Testament about yeast and Jesus warned His disciples, too. We have to be careful about the things that we let grow us. 

And it's the unleavened bread of the sacrifice of Christ that grows us the most. This body, this blood - this bread, this juice - it is the yeast. It's the thing that we keep turning over and over and kneading and knotting and growing from. Every time. 

We're not cannibals, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of another human being; we are sourdough starters, being fed by the very substance of which we were created, growing Christward every time we feast around this table. 

Let us be fed.