Wednesday, June 28, 2006

When I grow up

As some of you who frequent Sara's blog may already know, I have just been hired at the Youth and Family Services Bureau. This is my first grown up job and I am really excited. Let me first say that I love my current (soon to be former) job. Working with people with disabilities has always been in my blood and it has been a great experience to help all my clients over the last 5 years. That being said I'm so glad that I'm not going to have to do shift work for at a job where I have no guarantee that I will get the hours I need. So hooray for no more midnight shifts, no more 3 hour wrestling matches with angry clients, no more ripped shirts! I get a 9-5 job with a desk, a salary, and most importantly I get to work with troubled teens which is really what God has been making my heart bleed in this season of my life. God has just been so incredible in getting this job for me and I can give no one credit but Him. He basically laid it in my lap and removed any obstacles that would hinder me getting it. I just pray that I can live up to what great things He has planned for me. The only possible cloud on the horizon is that this position is available through a grant which means that it may not be there next year. But even if we lose the grant, I will have gained priceless experience in my vocation, a ton of resources, and a great thing to add to my resume. So although I may not know what's ahead of me, I know that this is the beginning of an incredible part of my life.
So if anyone who reads this could do me a favor, please be praying that God continues to bless me with wisdom, patience, discernment, and His pure love so that I can truly be a light to my community through this job.
Dan, 10:36 PM | link | 2 comments |

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What should have been v. What should be

Two posts in the wee hours of the morning- anyone figured out that it's a slow night at work?
Anyways, after my last post I did some more thinking and decided I should do a little more posting. Specifically I wanted to post on the state of Man before the fall. The question I have been asking myself this morning is if what we see described in the garden of Eden is a model for how we should relate to God on this side of the flaming sword or if our Fall has forever changed our relationship to the Creator. On one hand you have God being the same before and after the Fall in the sense that He was, is, and always will be a triune God. We have John telling us that Christ was present since the beginning (in the beginning was the Word) and we have Genesis and Proverbs telling us that the Holy Spirit has always existed as well. This throws out any sort of modalism, but it doesn't clear up the question of how we relate to God. Since the Fall we have been looking to the coming of Christ as a redeemer and now that he has, we stand before Him as redeemed. But what would our relationship to Christ have been if the Fall never took place? Would He have become incarnate and broken bread with His people? Was it Christ who was walking in the garden and found Adam and Eve hiding because of their shame? Perhaps the most interesting question to me when it comes to this issue is, was it inevitable that Man would fall? This question has been at the back of my mind since I first took notice of Revelation 13:8 that refers to Christ as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;" There is some disagreement about the order of the words in the Greek, but that ultimately doesn't matter for the point I am getting at. It seems to me that it may be possible that God knew before making us that by giving us free will that we would fall, not that there was a chance that we would fall, but that it was inevitable. How incredible of a love would that be if God knew that there was no way around it, that He would create this wonderful beings that would betray Him and that He would have to die for in order to redeem? Yet He still made us and called us "very good." This is all just speculation and I would even blink if I died and God said, " were way off on that one." But it's an interesting thought anyway.
Back to my main point. I think in some ways we can look to Eden as a model for the true church today. In the garden we had an intimate relationship with God on so many levels, we had a loving and respectful relationship with other people (granted there was only one at the time), and we had a dominate but respectful relationship with the earth. These things should be our goals today. We don't even have to limit ourselves to Genesis to see how important these three things were. Look at all the laws that Moses came up with (even the weird ones) and you see these relationships as the primary focus: man with God, man with man, man with earth. These relationships are eternal.
But in some ways, life before the Fall cannot be a model for Christians relationship to God and His creation. Most significantly, we cannot deny the fall. Some people will say that justification makes us as if we never sinned, but this is just not true. By taking on this mindset we rob God (and ourselves) of the most glorious display of love the world has ever seen; His atoning death and resurrection. We rob Him of the title of Redeemer, Savior, etc.
Another reason that life before the Fall cannot serve as a complete model is that our relationship to God changes. I want to be clear that I am not saying that God changes, but rather that we change. God is infinite and no period of time can reflect how one would relate to an infinite being. Both in this life and if the life to come we will plunge further and further into the depths of God; into His infinite wisdom, into His infinite love, into His infinite holiness. Perhaps that is what would have happened if Adam and Eve hadn't listened to the serpent, but we'll never know for sure.
What it comes down to is that there are far to many uncertainties about life in Eden to make a complex theology from, but there is enough in those two chapters to give a glimpse of something more, something beyond the scope of this fallen world. I personally would like to believe that that is all God intended.
Dan, 2:15 AM | link | 0 comments |

Friday, June 23, 2006

Thank goodness for the good souls?

I'm working a midnight right now and my client is asleep. So I've been sitting and thinking (as I often do on these shifts when everything on TV is replaced with infomercials) and my mind wandered to conversations I've had over the years. What stuck out tonight was a topic I've talked about with a lot of people over the years, 'Why would God damn people who are, for the most part, good even though they aren't Christian?' Usually when this matter comes up, I go on the defensive and try to show how God is merciful and just and that members of the hypothetical African tribe who love everybody and are all around nice people but haven't ever heard of Christ aren't necessarily going to hell. I could go into this further, but my response to this notion is not what I was pondering this evening.
What sparked my interest tonight was the realization that the question itself that the "good-people" apologists ask is flawed. The question posed (why would good people go to hell) reveals the mistaken view that many in today's culture have towards humanity. It is a strange misconception because on one hand it bears a sinful pride by assuming that people can really be so good as to be justified by their own works before God and on the other hand it shows the great despair of a culture that has gotten so used to the cruelty and sin of humanity that even the dimly lit shadows can look like daylight to the eyes of a people shrouded in pitch black.
Looking to scripture, we see in the Psalms that, "there is no one who does good, not even one." Anyone can look through the Bible and find hundreds of similar verses. Conversely anyone could look through the Bible and find verses like Psalms 34:8 which says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." So God is good, and man is not. Simple enough right? But that's not all there is to it, because it was not always this way. Looking at Genesis we see that God's creation is also good. In fact humans are said to be "very good." This is what i think is so important. We were made good and (before the fall) we were good by the very definition of our existence! We didn't have to do anything extra, we just were good by our very nature. But we screwed it all and we continue to screw it up. We sin so much that our cruelty and selfishness is referred to as human nature. This is the despair that I am talking about, we are so lost that we had to actually redefine what it means to be human! So for a sinful creature to turn around and point to some good works and call call themselves a saint is like standing in a deep chasm (a chasm you created no less), putting a few shovels full of dirt in a pile, and calling it a mountain. Such an act is not only a denial of the chasm you are in but it is an insult to mountains. This skewed perspective places "being good" on a level above and beyond our natural existence, when in fact being good is supposed to be our existence and, if it wasn't for our selfishness and lust, it would be. It reminds me of a quote that I've heard attributed to Augustine, Goethe, and even Nietzche- "become who you are." That is the call on humanity. To be holy is not to become divine, it is to become human. We are not filling mountains, we are filling holes (or for some of us, not digging up the whole that Jesus just filled).
Looking now at the pride in this way of thinking, I draw your attention back to those first verses I mentioned. According to the Bible, not only are we depraved but God is good and moreover he is the giver of all good things. Since God is good and anything else is good only in that it reflects Him, we can see that people cannot take credit for being good, that is for God alone. The only thing we can really say is our doing is sin. So to turn to God and point to our good deeds saying "isn't this good enough?" Is like cutting out the face on a painting, taking it the artist, and trying to take credit for its beauty (while ignoring the destruction we have cause to his creation).
Those are my thoughts for now. Maybe there's more to say, but I hear stirring upstairs so I must get back to work.

Dan, 10:53 PM | link | 0 comments |

Friday, June 16, 2006

New links

I'd like to point everyone to the links over there to your left. There are some new ones. I'd especially like you to check out my Dad's new blog. There's only one post but it's got some good stuff and I'm sure there are more than a few gems to follow. My brother is also getting a blog so keep your eyes peeled for that link. The Carter's are storming the blogosphere!!!
Dan, 10:13 PM | link | 0 comments |

Law and Grace

At the Bible study I go to on Thursdays, we've been going through James. Now I know what some of you are thinking, but no, I am not going to get into the whole "faith without works is dead" thing. What intrigued me about James was his use of the term 'law' in his letter. You can look for yourself if you want details (it's not a long book) but just for an overview, he basically says you should follow the law "do not be hearers who forget but doers." From an exegetical point of view one would do themselves a service not to pick apart James as they would a letter from Paul. James has a bit more of a shoot-from-the-hip type of approach and can't really be held up to the same word for word scrutiny of Paul's works. I am in no way denying the authority of this text, I'm simply saying that as a writer, he's not Paul.
Back to my point, the book of James really got me thinking last night about the post resurrection relationship to the law. It is by all accounts different than the relationship between the law and Moses, but how exactly? Paul uses some very strong language in Romans as well as other letters saying that we are no longer under the law, that we are dead to the law and alive in Christ, and that Christ is the end of the law. I could keep listing similar verses that, at first glance, give an image of early Christians dancing around Christ whose house had just landed on the law causing its feet to curl up under the house, striped socks and all. But what are we to make of Christ's promise that he was not here to abolish the law? and what of the book of James? and what about Paul's own words that we do not overthrow the law but rather we uphold it?
These were some of the thoughts I was pondering on the way home from Bible study last night and while I was thinking about these things something clicked. God took pity on me and gave me an analogy that made it all make sense. So let me set this up, I was in my car (listening to Waterdeep I think) and I was thinking about how we are justified by grace and how our life in Christ moves us toward Sanctification. At that moment the thought popped into my head; justification is being given a job (despite that fact that we are unqualified) and Sanctification is our vocation. Our life's work, by the grace of God, is to become holy. Then in the next second another thought popped up; the law is like school and being under Christ is like having a job.
Spelled out it goes like this: in school, we learn things for the sake of the things themselves because a teacher told us to. We learn multiplication so that we can multiply, we learn words so that we can read, etc. We do our calculations on worksheet after worksheet for no other reason than to learn how to do them (point being that these worksheets aren't being sent off to NASA as calculations for the next rocket; they have no outside purpose). We take tests, we are told to do things that we wouldn't do in the real world (I don't think that French diplomats are playing Pirate Bingo with French vocabulary words), and we constantly repeat things all so that we can learn the rules and processes of these studies. Most importantly, we fail. We make mistakes and are never perfect, no matter who we are (this part of the analogy gets a little thin with grade inflation being what it is in American schools, but if schools were doing what they were supposed to, this would be the case). I can think of one example of a friend of mine, lets call her Calli, who is an incredibly bright girl. She got a full ride to college and is one of my first go-to people for questions on literature or grammer. But despite her brilliance she struggled unbelievably in high school in an advanced placement chemistry class. No matter how hard she tried, how many ours she studied, how many times she went to the teacher for help, she couldn't get it quite right.
This is what the law does. It first of all shows us that we are ignorant and that we are failures, it shows us that there is perfection out there and shows us what it looks like (mostly to serve the first purpose), and it shows us how we can be good and what things we need to do to be good.
Now to grace. When Christ died for us and made us sons and daughters, it is like he gave us a job. Now in this job we use the things that we learned in school (the law) but we no longer do math for math's sake, we do it to serve a greater purpose! We know the rules and practices of our trade and no longer have to perform the self serving exercises that we did in school. At times we may be reminded of these rules and people may correct the things that we do, but it is not because we are in school and that we have to do things a certain way for their own sake, but because they are essential to the job. For example, you are at work and someone tells you that you didn't tally up the payroll checks right and the outcome was wrong. That would be valid. Now if someone told you that you need to calculate something a certain way, not because you were wrong (you infact have started using a more efficient computer program to do it) but simply because they didn't learn it that way, then that would be invalid.
So the law is still here and we still follow it, but not for it's own sake. Rather by following Christ we automatically are fulfilling the law. If I may use another example, I do not run a race for the sake of running a straight line, but by running the race I am in fact running in a straight line. When Paul tells us that Christ is the end of the law, he does not mean that the law is no more, but that the law leads to Christ who is its ultimate end (as in means to an end). It is an eternal relationship.
So let us try to not be so quick to throw around words like "legalist" or "pharisee." The law is still a part of our Christian walk. True we are no longer under it but, by being under Christ, we still uphold it, and when we do not uphold the law, it is a sign that we are straying from our path with Christ.

Dan, 7:06 PM | link | 2 comments |

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

more than words

Church can be a pretty egotistical place nowadays. One place that this is prevelant is in the revivalist church model. By this I am referring to the the 2 part service found in most evangelical denominations that conists of worship (music) and the sermon. Sometimes this will get changed up by adding announcements somewhere in the middle or a song at the end. The way I see it there are several problems with this. First of all the focus is on the sermon, this is the crux and the climax of the service. I should clarify that I don't have a problem with sermons generally, but in this format you don't find churches following any sort of lectionary (Bible verses that follow a predetermined calender used by the majority of the church) this means that what scripture we do hear is selected by the pastor to support his point rather than to create a sermon inductively starting in the scripture. Such sermons also make it easy to avoid preaching on the difficult verses in scripture or even to stretch ourselves by preaching on something that isn't our specialty.
Secondly, this type of service is an oddity in the history of the church service. Since the beginning of the church, Christians have been following a liturgy that (with some variation) is still found in liturgical church bodies (Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Episcopal, Reformed, and a few others). The liturgy is the worship setting given to us by the Apostles. We can trace it back to the 2nd century through the Didache and from then on see it consistently and exclusively in the church. So why not use it? As far as I can see, the only benefit of the revivalist model is that it may be easier for the short attention spans of the last few generations, but that hardly seems like something to contour to. If for no other reason, these churches should return to the liturgy because it is the model presented to the church in the beginning by the men Christ ordained to form the church as well as the model that has been maintained by the Spirit for 2000 years.
Third, these services willingly deny themselves the physical presence of God in the assembly of believers! Since the beginning, the eucharist (not the sermon) has been the center of Christians gathering. We see this as early as Paul who admonishes those who partake of Christ's body in the bread and wine in the wrong way. For 2 millinia, Christians have met to experience the true presence of Christ among them. But now churches have not only abandoned the real presence, they have even repudiated what shallow remnants of the eucharist that remains to being taken once a month or less. We come to church and bring our loved ones there to be with Christ, but we have thrown Him out the back door and replaced Him with an empty ritual.
Fourth, the creeds and prayers have disapeared. What prayers are said are usually said to close or open the 2 parts of the service and they are hardly the united declarations of faith found in the creeds. There is something truly powerful when believers gather and declare in unison what they believe or lift up the prayers of others. In such an individualized culture we need this more today than ever. People need to learn to put aside their personal preferences and what their comfortable for the sake of others. If we cannot do this in a chuch, where can we?
I could continue to list a number of other issues, but i think that these things will suffice. My point is that the liturgy is a beautiful thing that has been abandoned far to hastily in some traditions. I do not mean to imply that those whose churches do not use the liturgy are purposeful or malicious in their abandonment nor am I saying that God does not move in such services. God's grace is endless and such a matter would hardly find its end. But i have encountered far to many people in these traditions that are ignorant of the history of Christian gatherings (as most younger Christians are ignorant of a great deal of their history) and it is incredibly important that they understand what's at stake here. If the church is the bride of Christ then how we worship Him as a body reflects the state of our marriage. This is why the dissapating presence of Christ (as in Word and sacrament) are so disturbing. i don't know to many marriages that succeed when the husband is not allowed to speak or be intimate with his wife excpet maybe once a month.
Dan, 8:48 AM | link | 5 comments |

Monday, June 12, 2006

New Layout

As you may have noticed, I have changed things around a bit. I was a little tired of the old look so I decided to try my hand at html. Finally, after a couple days of being confused by tutorials and notepad files, I got at least a functional understanding of how to alter my site. So this is it. The layout will probably go through a few more changes as I learn more and get a little more creative, so feel free to make suggestions.
In celebration of my new look, I will return to posting regularly. Sorry to any of you disapointed by my long absence (I realize that my vacation from the blog world was a cruel thing to do to my many many readers). My first post should be up in a few days so keep an eye out.

Dan, 1:48 PM | link | 2 comments |