Archives For Fully Human

screwtapes-desktopMy son, Stephen, recently told me of a friend who is doing his doctorate on “The Happiness of God!” I thought of this as I was reading Psalm 16. It ends with a beautiful expression of the locus of true pleasure and happiness.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)

With this Psalm obviously in mind, C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, has the senior devil writing to his understudy, bemoaning the “unfair advantage” that God (his ‘Enemy’) has over the devils as they do their dark, inverted work:

He (God) is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore’. Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the ‘Miserific’ Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood… He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working, Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.

There’s no real pleasure on ‘the dark side!’

Q – Are you believing any devilish lies about pleasure?

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dinnerWe’ve all heard the stats – that 60-90+ percent of our communication is non-verbal! Actual words are only a part of the message we send.  Certainly Jesus relied on more than the spoken message, as vital and powerful as his teaching was!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom’s arrival – in many ways. People were healed of disease; demons were cast out and defeated; he chose 12 to be his messengers. AND he did something else. He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” His body talked.  In our series, “I am a Disciple,” Mark 2:13-17 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (later ‘Matthew’) to follow Him. We called the sermon, “The Eating Habits of a Disciple.

We need to see ourselves in this story in two ways:
First, we are all radically INCLUDED SINNERS. Jesus came to save sinners – like you and me! (1 Timothy 1:12-17) The religious teachers of Jesus’ day excluded most of humanity and most of their fellow Jews with their heavy load of man-made laws smothering the heart of God’s Law. So they couldn’t handle Jesus consistent choice of dinner companions. But they got it all wrong! Jesus wasn’t being soft on sin – he was strong on true repentance and healing. Jesus was the holy physician, shouting with bold compassion that “holiness is not fragile – but powerful” to transform and change broken, sinful people into his very likeness and image.

Second, Like Levi throwing a party for his tax collector buddies, we are called to be radically INCLUSIVE DISCIPLES. “Imitate me,” Jesus says to us. Make a statement by who you hang out with. I agree with Larry Crabb that the Church should be “The Safest Place on Earth” – to meet Christ and spiritual friends who help us grow from where we are, to where we are meant to be.

There is room for every kind of background and past sinful experience among members of Christ’s flock as we learn the way of repentance and renewed lives, for “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made whole), you were justified (made righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (2 Corinthians 6:11)  This is true inclusivity.

Richard Bewes, All Souls Church, London (in Washed and Waiting p. 44)

Are there people Jesus would love to invite to dinner – who you would rather not? If so, who is in greater need of repentance?

toughquestion logoIn our teaching series called “Tough Questions,” we looked at “The Church’s”  image problem among so many in our culture.  The question being raised by those understandably cynical about organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, could, I believe be put like this:

Isn’t the Church really bad for humanity?

I’ll put two quotes in this post from the sermon that need some rumination to fully grasp. For example, I mentioned the recent book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism, by A.C. Grayling.  Part of the problem is that “humanism” has been hijacked by those with a false understanding both of what it means to be human, and the Biblical underpinnings of true humanity. One reviewer hit the nail on the head as to the weakness of the new atheists’ argument:

Grayling is mistaken. The style of atheism rehearsed in these books has reached a dead end. It’s one thing to catalogue the manifest faults within this or that religious tradition, which the new atheists have ably done… over and over and over again. It’s quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also (really) good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

“If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

“Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. /hopelessness. Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of “why?” confronts the “unreasonable silence of the world,” the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up. 

Philip Larkin, the poet: speaks of a life with no solace or reassurance, confronting the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness:

This is what we fear: no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell,
nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anesthetic from which none come round.

-Daman Linker, Where are the Honest Atheist? The World

David Bently Hart rips the new atheism to shreds in his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Here is his point as relates to our question.

“Christendom” was only the outward, sometimes majestic, but always defective form of the interaction between the gospel and (culture)… The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. (compared to the common inhumanity of many ancient civilizations.)

“IF, AS I HAVE ARGUED…THE “HUMAN” AS WE NOW UNDERSTAND IT, IS THE POSITIVE INVENTION OF CHRISTIANITY, MIGHT IT NOT BE THE CASE THAT A CULTURE THAT HAS BECOME TRULY POST-CHRISTIAN WILL  ALSO, ULTIMATELY, BECOME POST-HUMAN’ !”

QUESTION: Can you see why the Good News of Christ brings a true Humanism? Fully Human, Fully Alive – restored to the image of THE human: the God-Man Jesus Christ!

The New Testament letter of 1 Peter provides a wonderful paradigm for the “Defense of the Faith.”  (Christian Apologetics) This is vital to understand if we are going to welcome tough questions – either our own or those that others want to discuss or argue.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Let me suggest three qualities of a Humble Apologist that spring from this very rich passage:
[You can listen to the audio sermon here.]

1. Have CONVICTIONS that honor Christ as Lord – keep going deeper in your relationship. It will help you be secure in times of your own questioning and secure as you speak with others who ask you questions.

2. Have REASONS that engage and are clear – in language that others outside the faith can understand.  Jesus and Peter do not expect us to withdrawal from discussion and debate, but rather to proclaim and embody Jesus as the hope of the world!

3. Have CIVILITY – humility and respect for the persons you converse with. In the words of Richard Mouw, the word “tolerance” has lost its effectiveness. We need convictions with civility that show respect to all!  (see this previous post)

As I promised in this morning’s sermon, here is a poem by C.S. Lewis, on the humble part of being an apologist for the faith.

The Apologists Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), p. 129.

StackFor those who want to go deeper, John Stackhouse has written a fine book with the same title of “Humble Apologetics.”

Fresco in Cappadocia

Fresco in Cappadocia

The second Sunday after Christmas is Epiphany (“revealing”) marking The Adoration of the Magi – or “Wise Men.” The so called “Three Kings” enter the story of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 2. There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye (or the ear, when we sing that really annoying song!)

The Magi need to be seen as prototypical Seekers! As Matthew commentator Dale Bruner points out, these Gentiles were drawn by the Star (natural revelation), which led them to the Scriptures (special revelation), which THEN led them to the Savior (God’s final and complete revelation).

Benedict XVI recently wrote a small book on the Infancy Narratives of Christ that includes the importance of this story in the Big Story of God.  This quote is from the blog of First Things.

The Magi—the Wise Men, the Three Kings—are crucial figures in salvation history, for they were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah promised to the people of Israel, through whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. That’s not a new insight, of course; what is striking in Benedict’s interpretation of their story is his expansion of the meaning of the Magi’s journey. The “Wise Men from the east,” he writes, “mark a ‘new beginning.’” In them, we find “the journeying of humanity toward Christ.”

Thus these Three Kings “initiate a procession that continues throughout history.” Moreover, they represent more than those who have actually found the Lord: “they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason” toward Christ. The Magi embody the truth of which Paul wrote in one of his great Christological hymns: “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

Jamestown, RI

Jamestown, RI

On this New Year’s Eve,
I’m doing some life review
and some humble planning ahead.

Pastor, poet George Herbert (1593-1633)
wrote a short poem called Life,
reminding himself of its unpredictable span
and of its hopefully lasting significance.

Life

I made a posy, while the day ran by:
“Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
                           My life within this band.”
But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they
By noon most cunningly did steal away,
                           And withered in my hand.

My hand was next to them, and then my heart;
I took, without more thinking, in good part
                           Time’s gentle admonition;
Who did so sweetly death’s sad taste convey,
Making my mind to smell my fatal day,
                           Yet, sug’ring the suspicion.

Farewell dear flowers, sweetly your time ye spent,
Fit, while ye lived, for smell or ornament,
                           And after death for cures.
I follow straight without complaints or grief,
Since, if my scent be good, I care not if
                           It be as short as yours.

Kingston Station, West Kingston, RI, USA

“Old age?”
Just a stage?
Turning the page?
Try to assuage?
No! Call me the Sage,
…my children.

Time to retire?
Wait for the pyre?
I’ll call out that liar.
I still aspire.
My desire has never been higher
…to fully live.

This is prime time,
not borrowed time.
Get off the dime!
I can still rhyme;
yes, the chime
…is still ringing.

This next station
Is not forced vacation,
graduation or capitulation.
It’s preparation for the consummation!
So help prepare the generation
…yet to come.

I wanna see a legacy.
No more fantasy.
I’ll live in reality,
loving with totality,
true piety and simplicity.
…All Glory to God.

Lyle Mook, c. 2012