Kill One, Spare One

I was watching the third episode of season one of BBC’s Survivors yesterday it got me thinking. And yes, this brief post will be wrapped around this episode, so spoiler alert.

Now to catch you up to speed, a virus has infected the world and millions of people are dead. There’s only a handful of people left and people are forming clans across the globe.

In this particular episode we follow, Abby (perhaps the “mainest” of characters), as she goes to search for her son. Eventually she runs into a clan that is run by former government official, Samantha, who is trying to keep society in tact. Now Samantha has seemed to have things altogether until we see her go a bit crazy towards the end of this episode. Two people have stolen from her clan and so she calls a court hearing in order to keep modern society running. The clan gets together and all agree that these two people, are in fact, guilty of stealing, though at least one of them has returned what they stole.

Samantha then pulls out a gun and shoots one. She then prepares to shoot the other, but Abby runs up and protects him and tries to cool Samantha down. Samantha decides to spare this one and states, “Justice and mercy: this is our law.” She then walks off more or less distraught at what she had done.

My mind was immediately taken to the laws of the Old Testament as there are many laws in the Torah that required death if broken. That was the way Samantha was operating in attempts to maintain society. But when God came down to earth in flesh, He showed us a better way. I’ve shared this story on my blog here before, but I love the way that Orson Scott Card paints the significance of how Jesus reacted to the woman caught in adultery in his book Speaker for the Dead:

A Great Rabbi stands, teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife’s adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death.

There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine – a Speaker for the Dead – has told me of two other Rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I’m going to tell you.

The Rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. ‘Is there any man here,’ he says to them, ‘who has not desired another man’s wife, another woman’s husband?’

They murmur and say, ‘We all know the desire, but Rabbi none of us has acted on it.’

The Rabbi says, ‘Then kneel down and give thanks that God has made you strong.’ He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, ‘Tell the Lord Magistrate who saved his mistress, then he’ll know I am his loyal servant.’

So the woman lives because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another Rabbi. Another city. He goes to her and stops the mob as in the other story and says, ‘Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.’

The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. ‘Someday,’ they think, ‘I may be like this woman. And I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her as I wish to be treated.’

As they opened their hands and let their stones fall to the ground, the Rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head and throws it straight down with all his might it crushes her skull and dashes her brain among the cobblestones. ‘Nor am I without sins,’ he says to the people, ‘but if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead – and our city with it.’

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis and when they veer too far they die. Only one Rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation.

So of course, we killed him.

Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York, NY: TOR, 1986. Print.

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Prior to Azusa Street

I wrote a blog post a long time ago called Come Expecting and what I wrote in there has rung through my ears quite a few times in the past few months. In that post, I more or less addressed the fact that I wasn’t always that great at coming to worship with the expectation that God would show up. I had seen the power of God really invade the services where people came prepared for an experience and that was an attitude I wanted to take on.

I’ll be honest with you: here I am, months later, still having to work on that.

Click to go to Amazon

And now that post rings through my ears once again as I read Frank Bartleman’s Azusa Street. Now incase you didn’t know, Azusa Street was a big revival out in California in the early 1900’s and Bartleman was apart of it. In his book, he recalls the events leading up to the revival and the revival itself.

Now I’m not even sure I agree with everything Bartleman has to say, but let me tell you one thing for sure: this guy was sold out for Christ. His opinions are highly charismatic and sometimes it seems that he goes a bit over the top (or maybe I’m just a bit close-minded), but all of his beliefs stem from an intense love for God.

Anyways, I did bring up that old blog post for a reason. See, I believe that part of the reason Azusa Street really got going was because of intercessors like Bartleman. The whole first chapter of his book is about what happened before the revival took place and much of is personal stories of himself engaging in prayer.

My life was by this time literally swallowed up in prayer. I was praying day and night. (21)

There are also stories of a group just pushing into worship and coming time and time again to meetings where they maybe didn’t even know what to expect, but knew that there was in fact something to expect.

One night at the New Testament Church, during a deep spirit of prayer on the congregation, the Lord came suddenly so near that we could feel His presence as though he were closing in on us around the edges of the meeting. Two-thirds of the people sprang to their feet in alarm, and some ran hurriedly out of the meeting, even leaving their hats behind them, almost scared out of their senses. There was no out-of-the-ordinary demonstration in the natural to cause this fright. It was a supernatural manifestation of His nearness. What would such do if they saw the Lord? (39)

He also spent time writing the leaders of the revival that had been happening Wales, asking them to pray for what they were experiencing to happen in California. It’s funny too, because Bartleman described Wales as a place that “expected from God” (22). Through a passion for prayer and much, much more, I believe God heard the area’s petition and sent revival to them.

Intercession is something that’s kind of become fresh to me as of late. I mentioned the other day that I had started reading through Shane Claiborne’s new book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Well, if I were to be honest with you (yet again), I was actually caught off guard when I came to the part of the liturgy that said “Prayer for others.”

I couldn’t believe it, but I actually found it startling to pray for others. I realized that so much of my prayers as of late had been for myself, services, or organizations. I mean, I suppose I was still praying for people here and there, but they were usually coming up to me for prayer or I was recognizing in the spur of the moment that I should pray for them. But to actually stop for a moment and think about people I could pray for outside of a service or the spur of the moment really did catch me off guard.

That’s something else I need to work on, especially since I find myself going through the daily liturgy thinking, “I wonder if today’s liturgy is going to have me pray for people right now.” Praying for others takes time, focus, concern, and empathy and sometimes quite a bit of effort to get to that place. I don’t even find myself taking a lot of time out during that part of the liturgy, but the concern for it that I have now is at least a bit more significant than it was and will hopefully grow stronger each day.

Okay. That’s enough honesty for today.

For more thoughts on intercession, check out Beni Johnson’s book, The Happy Intercessor, or check out a previous post I made on the topic. Also, I’d like to say good morning Justin.

Liardon, Roberts, and Frank Bartleman. Frank Bartleman’s Azusa Street: Includes Feature Articles from The Apostolic Faith Newspaper. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2006. Print.

The Importance of Reason

The understanding of how reason should be used in the church is much more debatable than some would think. On one side of the spectrum, you have evidentialists who would never expect anyone to believe in Christianity if it could not be explained reasonably. And then, on the other end you have fideists who see no use of reason in the study or understanding of God.

Theologian Karl Barth was one of these fideists, as author Kelly James Clark points out in his book Return to Reason. He states that Barth, “sees philosophy and logic as proper in their own right, but as irrelevant to theology. Reason, he believes, is fallen and is incapable of eliciting belief in God” (154). This statement has a certain draw to it. Logically, and even biblically, it seems to make sense. We are fallen people and faith is really a matter of faith, right? So then how does logic and reason play a role in it all?

Well oddly enough, there is a similar draw one can have to the statements of a rational person. After all, people like C.S. Lewis fall on this side of the spectrum and his works have been held incredibly high by most Christians. And if it were not for someone as rational as Lewis, we would not have such profound insight on topics such as pain.

This topic was especially important during the Age of Reason and still today, the question being, “If God does exist and is good, then why did He allow pain in the world?” Some people would say for this reason that God does not exist. But C.S. Lewis, in all his rationality, wrote an amazing defense of God in relation to pain in his book, The Problem of Pain. Using his reason, he engages this problem, stating that, “In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (I) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for his redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute” (111).

The topic of pain is hardly an easy topic for anyone to address, reasonable or not, but the fact is that this former atheist was able to tackle it through reason, giving us a look at its obvious usage within the church. Other reasonable and well-known Christians such as G.K. Chesterton wrestled with this problem of pain as well. Phillip Yancey mentions how Chesterton reasonably found God through pain’s antonym: pleasure.

In addition to the problem of pain, G.K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated by its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation. Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for all the rest of us?

It was through asking reasonable questions such as these that Chesterton was able to find God. So then how do we understand the draw that we may feel towards both people like Barth and Lewis? Is it possible to mesh their opposite views together, or do we have to choose one or the other?

I honestly believe, despite the obvious contradiction, that these ideas can be meshed together to a certain extent. There are times in Christianity where we must simply live out of the faith of the fideist and other times where we must live out the reason of the evidentialist. On top of that, I would go even further and say that on a daily basis we must live out of the harmony of the two combined. The mind (reason) and the heart (faith) are both essential to have in the Christian life. There will be times when things just do not make sense, and it is in those times that we must rely on faith. That is not to say that we cannot search to find reason for our present difficulty, but rather that at any given time we may have to rely more heavily on one aspect of Christianity than the other.

In reexamining Barth’s quote above, I cannot agree that reason is irrelevant to theology. I actually think reason is incredibly important—especially to theology. However, I think it is important to hunger for God in the same way that a fideist would. That is to say that we as Christians are willing to set our reason aside and follow God’s calling by faith alone if need be. I believe that every Christian will have to do this—even if just for a moment in time.

That is not to say, however, that we blindly accept whatever we are taught, for reason is not only good at bringing proof to difficult debates, but it is also an excellent tool for pointing out errors in our current beliefs. If we simply live by faith alone all the time, we are most likely going to find ourselves under some kind of false or incomplete doctrine due to unbridled trust. We need to use reason to question what we are taught so that we can come to a better understanding as to who God is. In the same way, we also must use the faith and revelation of a fideist.

Our life experience will alter this balance between faith and reason. An atheist who has become a Christian may continue to rely heavily on reason for the rest of their life as reason may have been the avenue that brought them to faith. Others, however, who may have had a charismatic experience with the Spirit of God may find themselves in a situation in which they cannot fully explain. And while that does not mean that they will live unreasonably in their Christian walk or that they will not try to understand what happened, it does mean that they may have a firm assurance to hang their life upon without the need for reason to be there when difficulty comes their way. Other’s experiences will give them a different balance, but the fact is that both faith and reason must become a part of one’s life in some way.

Take John Wesley for example. His balance was completely unique to most of the world. He was a man of reason and intellect who reasonably accepted the gifts of the Spirit and saw them everywhere he went. Paul Wesley Chilcote explains him this way:

He was, in fact, one of the most able Christian apologists… in the so-called Age of Reason, when dynamic, living faith often fell prey to either arid rationalism or unbridled emotionalism. Refusing to separate the head from heart, his life was characterized by a winsome synthesis of knowledge and piety, intellectual rigor and disciplined zeal. He was, as biographer Henry Rack has described him, a “reasonable enthusiast” (76).

Wesley (while probably more reasonable than myself), is a great example of the kind of balance I am talking about. Most people who are as reasonable as him would reject every little bit of enthusiasm in the Christian faith and yet, he did not do so (granted, he did reject the claims that he was an enthusiast since he was not one in the way that the people of his time defined it).

The character of the Apostle Paul seemed to have a similar attitude to that of Wesley’s. He had faith and saw that it was necessary for Christians to live by it. In fact, it was he who wrote the ever-so-popular Bible verse “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). On top of that, not only did Paul do many miracles in the name of Jesus but he also wrote numerous books of the Bible, including one of the most complex biblical books: Romans. This book has such profound and deep insight, that there is no way that we can deny the great amount of reason it would have taken to write it. Plus, with Paul being both a convert and an apostle, one should expect that he would need some kind of emphasis on reason in his life.

Or we could of course, take a look at Jesus, the prime example of Christianity. He constantly did miracles that defy reason. He spoke mysteries that could only be interpreted by the Holy Spirit. He was mystical in many ways, and yet everything He did and said was for a reason. We read His words in hopes to gain the faith He possessed and to understand the reasoning behind the things He said. And on top of that, He calls us to live like Him (which could maybe be defined as reasonably unreasonable).

Outside of all of this, I think reason is very important in our dialogue with the unsaved, especially in today’s world. With the rise of science, we have atheism and on top of that, there are many who just do not really care to think one way or the other. If we view their salvation as important and hope for them to receive it out of love, we must use the tools at our disposal. And after having been through the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, we should realize that our society has decided that reason is important. Therefore, if we do not look to use our minds, we may not always do that good of a job at “going out into all the world.”

But despite this emphasis on the importance of reason, I must say that I agree with Clark when he says that belief in God “does not require arguments or evidence in order to be rationally accepted or maintained—the theist has a perfect right to believe without the evidentialist support of an argument. In fact the demand for evidence is perverse, obdurate, or improper” (122). I find this true in my own life. I am not concerned with science or arguments against God because I have the assurance of His Holy Spirit. Whether it sounds irrational or not, I have had an experience with God. I have seen His signs and wonders. If others do not consider this reason enough to believe, then I suppose that these experiences supersede my need for reason. But for the sake of others, I will do my best to reasonably explain my faith and experiences to them.

I realize this that mixture of evidentialism and fideism can create quite a bit of confusion and I’m sure that the biggest question one might ask is “how do I balance blind faith with reason?” My answer (though it may not be a great one) is with discernment and by the leading of the Spirit. If you are a very reasonable person, you will need blind faith to fall back on at some point and you should expect to do so. If you are an unreasonable person, then you need to learn to use reason in your life—if not for yourself, then for others so that they can understand you better.

However you look at it, the truth is that reason is important and necessary. The degree may vary from person to person, but the important thing is that it is there and balanced in some aspect. God has given this to us as a gift, and while we may have violated it in times past, we have an opportunity to offer reason redemption.

 

Works Cited

Chilcote, Paul Wesley. Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision: an Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print.

Clark, Kelly James. Return to Reason: a Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism, and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.

Yancey, Philip. Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

 

Love is Not a Bullhorn Pt. 2

A few days ago I made a post called Love is Not a Bullhorn which was about a story I read in the news. The basic gist was this:

  • A church has been protesting at a strip club and now the strip club is protesting at the church.

My critique was on how this church was acting. The basic gist of what I said was this:

There is a very delicate balance to what you preach. It’s not all law. It’s not all sin. There is the incredibly important aspect of forgiveness that one man died for. You also might recall that He died silently and not with a bullhorn.

The post I made was short, but was also, I feel, important. You can read it here. Anyways, I bring this back up because the story has come back into the news. Now typically, when we hear of a story about a church, it’s a bad thing. The media obviously focuses on the crap that happens in the world because that sells money. But somehow this story has come back into the news and now there’s hope that this church could fix the situation. Here’s what YAHOO said on the matter.

They [the strip club owner and the pastor of the church] say they’ll negotiate for the first time Wednesday.The decision came after two women from ministries that evangelize to adult-entertainment industry workers spoke during Sunday’s sermon at the church in Warsaw, 60 miles northeast of Columbus.

San Diego resident Sheri Brown and Grand Rapids, Mich., resident Anny Donewald say the congregation should just love the strippers and “let the Holy Spirit draw them out.”

The Columbus Dispatch newspaper says women who attended the church service apologized to strippers who had traveled from nearby Newcastle to protest outside.

This is good news! Not only did this church allow people outside of their congregation to come in and critique them, but they also listened! That is much, much harder to do than you might think. It’s obvious to me that the Spirit was at work in those who apologized.

To the rest of Christians, let’s keep this church in prayer. They are, after all, as much a part of the body as the rest of us. God is already mending some wounds and this meeting between the pastor and strip club owner could be an epic moment of healing. Not just between the church and the strip club, but between the church and every person who read the original article.

Ohio Strip Club Owner, Pastor to Meet over Feud – Yahoo! News.” The Top News Headlines on Current Events from Yahoo! News – Yahoo! News. Web. 16 Aug. 2010. <http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100815/ap_on_fe_st/us_odd_strippers_protest_church&gt;.

Alive in God, Dead to Sin

I was listening to a message from Bill Johnson on the iBethel podcast today as I drove to work. When I heard this, I knew I was going to have to share it. You might recognize what’s being said from Romans 6.

…when Jesus died, I was baptized into His death, and when He came up from the grave, I came out of the water (water baptism) and my old nature was crucified with Christ. This one thing I know. I know my old nature’s crucified. That I am to consider myself completely unavailable for sin; it is just not even an option or a possibility.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t sin, it just means it’s not going to happen out of my old nature. We fight not against flesh and blood; our fight isn’t against even our old nature; our fight is against spiritual powers and principalities that try to mimic what our old nature looks like so that we fall under the deception of a wrong self image that we still have the same habits we used to have ten, twenty, thirty years ago… Believe a lie, you empower the liar.

Johnson, Bill. “Transformed Series: From Glory to Glory.” Audio blog post. iBethel. Bethel Church “Sermon of the Week”, 11 July 2010. Web. 13 Aug. 2010. <http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/bethel-church-sermon-week/id76583739>.

Love is Not a Bullhorn

Let’s get something straight here church: you were called to love people and give them God’s life, NOT to speak hell and death over them. Sadly, it’s always our mistakes that make the news:

The owner of an Ohio strip club and some of his dancers have been protesting at a church that has done the same to them for four years…They [the church] come armed with bullhorns, signs and video cameras for posting customers’ license plate numbers online.

There is a very delicate balance to what you preach. It’s not all law. It’s not all sin. There is the incredibly important aspect of forgiveness that one man died for. You also might recall that He died silently and not with a bullhorn.

Jesus never even needed a bullhorn anyways. Why? Because He showed people love so perfectly that crowds would not leave Him alone! They had to have more of Him! They hung on His every word.

Jodi read me an amazing story out of Orson Scott Card’s, “Speaker for the Dead” just the other day. I think it applies well to this situation:

A Great Rabbi stands, teaching in the marketplace. It happens that a husband finds proof that morning of his wife’s adultery, and a mob carries her to the marketplace to stone her to death.

There is a familiar version of this story, but a friend of mine – a Speaker for the Dead – has told me of two other Rabbis that faced the same situation. Those are the ones I’m going to tell you.

The Rabbi walks forward and stands beside the woman. Out of respect for him the mob forbears and waits with the stones heavy in their hands. ‘Is there any man here,’ he says to them, ‘who has not desired another man’s wife, another woman’s husband?’

They murmur and say, ‘We all know the desire, but Rabbi none of us has acted on it.’

The Rabbi says, ‘Then kneel down and give thanks that God has made you strong.’ He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. Just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, ‘Tell the Lord Magistrate who saved his mistress, then he’ll know I am his loyal servant.’

So the woman lives because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.

Another Rabbi. Another city. He goes to her and stops the mob as in the other story and says, ‘Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.’

The people are abashed, and they forget their unity of purpose in the memory of their own individual sins. ‘Someday,’ they think, ‘I may be like this woman. And I’ll hope for forgiveness and another chance. I should treat her as I wish to be treated.’

As they opened their hands and let their stones fall to the ground, the Rabbi picks up one of the fallen stones, lifts it high over the woman’s head and throws it straight down with all his might it crushes her skull and dashes her brain among the cobblestones. ‘Nor am I without sins,’ he says to the people, ‘but if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead – and our city with it.’

So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.

The famous version of this story is noteworthy because it is so startlingly rare in our experience. Most communities lurch between decay and rigor mortis and when they veer too far they die. Only one Rabbi dared to expect of us such a perfect balance that we could preserve the law and still forgive the deviation.

So of course, we killed him.

Works Cited:

Bullhorn Guy. Perf. Rob Bell. NOOMA. DVD.

Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York, NY: TOR, 1986. Print.”

Dancers from Ohio Strip Club Protest at Church – Yahoo! News.” The Top News Headlines on Current Events from Yahoo! News – Yahoo! News. Web. 10 Aug. 2010. <http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100810/ap_on_fe_st/us_odd_strippers_protest_church&gt;.

Using a Sword in Worship

So I mentioned a little while back that I had gotten a sword after being knighted at church. Yes, it sounds cheesy and weird, but it meant more to me than I can really explain because despite it’s cheesiness it has been a reminder that I am in a spiritual war, battling demons and even my own flesh.

And yes, I have even at times found myself in sin, grabbing my sword (Shekinah) and waving it around, praying, and declaring battle.

And then today I was reading “The Happy Intercessor” by Beni Johnson when she quoted this Bible passage:

Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. (2 Kings 19:35)

It occurred to me how insane it was that because of some prayer, something so supernatural happened that God didn’t even have to work through His people. Why? Because He bypassed humanity and let all Heaven break loose!

Our prayer is like a sword. It actually does something.

Beni went on after quoting this passage to tell a story that I really enjoyed and thought you might enjoy as well:

“God showed me several years ago just how strong our prayers are. In the late ’90s, it was really cool to have a sword at church. many of us felt like having a sword was saying prophetically that we were in a war and that God was fighting for us. We used them for spiritual warfare and making prophetic declarations. All kinds of prophetic acts were done using swords. I was in a conference where we called all the women up and knighted them for the kingdom. It was a fun time.

I thought i would be really fun to get a dagger. I liked what daggers were used for in wartime. They used them to fight and to dig out arrow tips that wounded them in battle.

I went onto a website to order one. I found one called the state guardian dagger. Prophetically that sounded good to me. I felt like a guardian over my state. I ordered it wand waited six long weeks for it to arrive. During this season in my life, I felt like I was going through a time of deafness in hearing God speak. It was a quiet time. Well, the day came when the dagger came to the house. I couldn’t believe how big the box was. It must have been close to 6 feet high. I thought that they must really pack their good well. As I unpacked the box, I reached in and began pulling out this very long sword. As I pulled the sword from the box, my spirit ears opened up and I heard, ‘You think your prayers are like a dagger, but I think your prayers are like this sword.'”