Sunday, April 24, 2016

Target's Bathrooms and the Tyranny of Boredom

My friend was lamenting to me the other day about the speed at which our common sense and basic grasp of reality has melted away. That Target would open all bathrooms to whomever wants to use them means more than "LBGT people finally have rights," it means if his daughter was in the bathroom and a creepy looking dude decided to go in after her he'd have to go in too in order to keep her protected. He was fine with a Transie using whichever one they wanted, but he was less than enthusiastic about being compelled into the women's bathroom from then on.
But his chief complaint was not that he would have to do things he despises now, nor was it even that we were rolling back to the middle ages or Muslim countries where every woman needs to be continually escorted and protected from men. He was most upset about how quickly it had all happened. A frog in water that's slowly brought to boil will die without ever jumping out, but this isn't a slow change that we're calmly accepting. No, we're pouring boiling water over the frog and he's just as content to sit and die. Why?

I think it's because God has made it so that pleasures grasped on a road that goes away from Him turn to ash in the hand. If you commit to fleeing from the true God you will find pleasure to be a mirage. Once you have the object of your desires, it vanishes without satisfaction and the hum drum of life takes it's place. You know what I mean. The ordinariness of life swallows everything novel. You may have a new toy, but eventually you get bored or tired of it and the pleasure is gone. Poor people think rich people must be very happy because they have a lot of stuff, but it no longer brings any joy because they've acclimated to it. Someone in the third world who has a very limited and terrible existence from your perspective is perfectly happy, because their world is normalized. Old people begin losing freedoms and abilities, but they're okay with this because life settles like that. The drug addict acclimates to the substance and begins needing more and more to get over his tolerance. The two passionate young lovers settle into a routine of marriage.
I was pushing the kids in the stroller on a run when suddenly I realized I wasn't winding all over the neighborhood, I was going forward, and only occasionally would I make a brief turn before resuming going forward. The times of change were small and fleeting, and the ordinary forward plodding quickly resumed. 

God made life ordinary, and made the ordinariness of life to swallow the novel. And He did this so that we could not flee from Him. We acclimate instantly because this keeps us from going off track and getting lost. It's a beacon, a sign, a warning. It's a buoy that keeps you headed toward God. It's not just the way things are that life is sucky and ordinary, it's actually a very great gift from God. Think about that next time you do your 10th load of laundry.

We are pursing one wildly insane porno idea after the other, stacking them on with increasing speed, because we are trying to serve the pleasure god in the hope that our life will be at least a little bit more interesting. We are chasing the novel to stave off boredom, but the second we get the newest treat boredom swamps us and we're back in chains. Gay marriage? Great. Until we get it. Bathroom selection based on a whim? Fabulous. Until it's achieved and then the idea becomes a yawn. Single bathrooms rather than divided by sexes? Whatever. We're so desperate for a fix of something new and interesting that there's no limit to what we will sacrifice on the alter to this god. "Oh baal, hear us" we cry, but there is no answer. The only result is that the radical becomes ordinary and we're left feeling restless again. And no amount of trying will change this, because this is how reality is apart from Christ.

But the good news is that in Christ there are pleasures forevermore.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Covenant of Redemption - Introduction

“Alright everyone that’s enough group time, let’s come back together and conclude our teacher training seminar.”
The noisy room immediately fell silent.
“Oh wow, that was fast. Uh, okay, well as you can see we only have a few minutes left on the clock, and for the remainder of the time I’d like to combine the best ideas from each group into one big take away. I’m sure you all did a great job on your analysis of Psalms 1, and I’ve got a marker here to write down what’s said, so go ahead, whenever you’re ready.”

There was a brief silence for the sake of politeness, then the groups began to shout out their observations:
“We discussed how we’re blessed when we avoid evil.”

“We noticed the progression of sin. Don’t walk, don’t sit, don’t be around it.”
“We noticed that the wicked will be blown away like chaff, while the righteous have weight about them and will endure. It was an encouragement for us to be strong during our trials.”
“We noticed that God compares us to a strong, continually watered tree.”

The instructor dutifully transferred the comments to the white-board until the clock showed 3:58, at which point everyone fell silent to signal to him it was time to wrap up. (Being teachers ourselves we already knew how to manage the clock.)
“Anything else?”
His tone indicated the question was more of a formality than a genuine request for information.
A quick backward glance showed it was a college student who had no respect for the unwritten rules of seminar time management.
“Go ahead young man.”
“Where is Christ in this?”
The instructor frowned, “I’m not sure I understand you.”
“What I mean is,” came the clarification, “isn’t the Bible about Christ? Any Jew or Muslim would have said what we just said. They think we need to obey God to receive blessings. But where is Christ? Why haven’t we tried to find Him here? Isn’t Christ what makes us Christians?”
Realizing what he was driving at the instructor raised his voice. “Not everything is about Jesus young man. He’s not hiding behind every rock or tree, or verse or story. What’s important is that we take these truths and put them to use—that’s what matters. That’s what the text here indicates, and as you’ll notice, that’s what everyone else realized as well.”
He paused briefly to consider if his off the cuff response was sufficient, and deciding it was, adopted a more business-like tone to address the rest of the class. “Well thank you for coming, we’re out of time now, but the next session is in three months and we’ll have more time then. Enjoy the rest of your day, I’ll send out a reminder email in a couple of weeks to follow up with you.”

And just like that the event lurched to an unsatisfactory end.

I walked to my car sullenly, taking the rebuke personally. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. Developing our ideas by asking the question, “What does this mean to me?” when we should have been asking, “What does this teach me about Jesus?” caused us to overlook the more excellent way.

The longer I thought about it, the obvious my mistake became. If I were asked, “How would you get your bearings in an initially unfamiliar place?” would I have answered, “look around for something familiar”? Not a chance. I’d have said, “Turn on a GPS and look at the map,” because doing so gives me a reliable, objective source of information that can become the basis for my subjective understanding. In other words the objective method imparts knowledge, the subjective uses it.

Despite the fact that the objective approach is clearly the superior way to handle the Scriptures the vast majority of sermons are constructed in the subjective fashion. Last week I listened to the radio ministries of David Jeremiah, Chuck Swindoll, and Robert Jeffers as they drew critical and essential life lessons from the book of Nehemiah. Each in their own way discussed how a Christian should expect resistance from godlessness, how good project management can be helpful in all areas of life, and how if God helps us we can overcome adversity, no matter how formidable. All good things. All true things. But like the Greeks who came to Philip in John 12:21, my heart cried out while listening to these sermons, “Sir, I would see Jesus.”

It may be unfair to say, but I don’t think the disciples who walked the Emmaus road would’ve turned to each other and said, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?” if the topic was “Encouraging lessons from the Old Testament.” I suspect the reason their hearts came alive was because Christ “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 22:27).

Because the fact is, I’m sick of practical tips and good advice. As an immoral sinner I’m desperate for a sovereign savior, not an upbeat life coach, and the thought of hearing another pep-talk from the pulpit makes me want to write a letter to the preacher that says, “Dear pastor, tell me less of what I need to do and more of what Christ has done for me. He must increase and I must decrease. ”

I say all that by way of introduction in order to say this: what you’re reading is a book on how the covenants in the Bible are principally objective, Christocentric revelations. Noah learned that the Christ would be a savior. Abraham learned He’d be a king. Moses learned He’d be a prophet. Israel learned in the New Covenant that He’d be a priest. The New Testament book of Hebrews is written to show us how Christ is the better promised mediator, priest, and prophet, the missing piece of redemptive history. The covenants in the Bible are not given so that we could have a stronger faith (although they have that effect), better self-actualization, or higher self-esteem, but so that we could know God.  Which was His plan from the beginning.

Arrival, Humanity, and Jesus

I recently rented Arrival (a worthy movie about aliens coming to Earth to communicate with us) and was immediately struck by the forcef...