eating from the wrong tree

Though many Christians would like to try – and sometimes do try, I don’t think we will ever be able to solve all the world’s morality problems. I’m thinking we might as well get used to it.

But in spite of this, we just love to try and ‘battle’ against the world’s morality. Now, I’m not advocating moral relativism – where right and wrong are determined by what you had for breakfast. I most certainly believe in true good and true evil. What I am suggesting, however, is that rather than it being our job to sort this out, we are to trust God to do so. When we try to sort out the good/evil thing, we are trying to so something that only God can do.

This mistake is actually at the heart of the Garden of Eden story. Adam and Eve were given absolute freedom in the garden to eat from any tree they liked, and were forbidden to eat from just one tree. Genesis 2:16-17, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Good and evil were held secure by God – no assistance or meddling needed.

Well, tending the garden and eating from any of the other trees just wasn’t enough. They apparently wanted to help God with good and evil as well. The key verse is Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and was a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of it’s fruit and ate.” The results of this are in Gen. 3:22, “…the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil…’ ”

All talk of apples and snakes aside, let’s see what the story is getting at – she ate from the tree that she thought would make her wise! All of the other trees in the garden were ‘good for food’ and ‘pleasing to the eye’ (Gen. 2:9), but this tree had more. This isn’t simply about eating an apple when you were meant to stick to oranges and figs! Neither is it talking about Eve simply wanting more wisdom to make better life choices. This is much more serious. This is the inversion of the creator/creation relationship! This is about Adam and Eve trying to take God’s place!

I wonder if we eat from the same ‘tree’ today. Do we try to tackle morality (good/evil) in our own hands? Who are we to do that!? Please don’t hear me saying that morality doesn’t matter. It matters so much that it takes God to sort it out! Yes, the ‘garden’ needs tending (Gen. 2:15), but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that God needs our help sorting out good/evil. The more we focus on sorting out the world’s morality problems, the more we show we don’t trust God to do it.

May we eat freely from all of the life God has given us.

poor christianity

“And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John… perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of the fellowship, that we should go to the (uncircumcised) Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews). They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
– Paul in Galatians 2:9-10 NKJV
Wow. Welcoming those filthy, stinking, sinning, dirty Gentiles into the people of God, and such inconvenient, impractical and idealistic priority given to serving the poor?While we can’t reduce Christianity to these two characteristics, they remain at the very heart of the types of attitude and action that should characterise Christians.Welcoming Gentiles Today
It’s hard to imagine just how wrong it would have felt to many faithful Jews at that time even to entertain the idea that Gentiles could be justified by God simply by faith – no Jewish-ness (‘works of the law’ – Gal. 2:16) required. The accomplishment of Jesus had not only surpassed every hope of the Jews, but had also come with a sharp word of prophet-like judgment to them as well. All nations were supposed to be blessed in Abraham and by Abraham’s descendants. Instead, they had taken on some of the characteristics of the various empires that had continually been oppressing them. As N.T. Wright brilliantly puts it, God’s rescuers needed rescuing themselves. The invitation to Gentiles had always been open throughout Israel’s history, but for the most part, it was an invitation that wasn’t getting delivered.

The language of the New Testament is vibrantly coloured by the tension of Gentile-Jew relations, but the language of our world isn’t. Perhaps this can keep us from noticing how often we can take up the same attitude towards people who do not share our faith in Jesus. Our self-righteousness is often disgusting. In the same way that Paul talks about Gentiles ‘doing the things contained in the law’ (Romans 2:14), many people today are doing great things for the world with no faith in Jesus at all. God’s people are identified¬† by faith, and this doesn’t give us the right to make it harder for people that don’t look like us to come to this faith. Not only will we have to be more willing to allow them join us in our work, but we may have to humble ourselves and join them in their work.

Remembering The Poor Today
The leading apostles gave the ‘Gentile side’ of the ministry to Paul and the one thing that was of utmost importance to both of them was care for the poor. One does not have to read the Bible for very long to see how God is angered when His people don’t care for the poor. Multiple prophecy-warnings by prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospel narratives, and the New Testament all confirm this concern of God that is to be our concern as well.

What keeps us from ‘remembering’ the poor? Allow me to suggest that our minds are on other things. If you live in a Western nation in the 21st century, that means that you are bombarded with advertising images and slogans that are determined to keep your mind on whatever it is they are trying to sell you. We need to re-capture the eager-ness of Paul and his fellow Apostles (or more importantly, the eager-ness of Jesus our Lord) to care for the poor. Comfort, convenience, home-improvement, investment (let alone drowning in debt), fashion and the like should all take a back seat to our eager-ness to remember the poor. There are countless ways to serve the needs of less privileged people around the world. We must make it our priority.

what we don’t want to know

You really must go and see the movie that my wife and I (and others) saw recently.

It’s called ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ It chronicles Al Gore’s message about global warming that he’s been sharing for more than a decade. To say it is a must see would be a grave under-statement. The theatrical trailer can be viewed at http://www.climatecrisis.net

Now, many of you may be thinking, “Oh yeah. Global warming. Yeah, some scientists say that this is a problem, others don’t. I’ll wait till it’s really an obvious problem before I get too worried…”

I used to think this way.

I don’t now.

Gore has done his homework. And more importantly, he has talked to a lot of people that have done their homework. This is his life passion. But even this isn’t the reason that you should go see the movie.

You should go see the movie because you need to see what Western culture and life-style does to the planet. God’s planet. The Creator’s planet. The planet God has left in our hands. This is not a side-issue in God’s economy. There are no side-issues.

I am from a region in the United States (which – as many of us know – contributes the most towards the demise of the Earth) called the ‘buckle of the Bible belt.’ Christianity has been so established in this area, that these Christians enjoy many privileges that other Christians have never known and probably never will (and probably won’t be any worse off…). I know what it’s like to live a comfortable ‘Christian life’. You don’t have to go into a normal bookstore to get your favourite Christian books, because you can go to a Christian bookstore and avoid having to be exposed to books that don’t align with your world-view. Heck, in some places, you can go to a Christian bookstore that aligns more comfortably with your denomination. What’s more, many Christians see this as a demonstration of God’s favour on them.

In addition to enjoying the benefits of the established nature of Christianity in the U.S., American Christians (mostly) live identical lifestyles of comfort, convenience, busy-ness and everything else stero-typical of what it means to be an American. Most Christians would assume that the American Dream is fully harmonious with God’s Dream. While I cannot – and will not – include all American Christians in this description, it fits the strong majority quite well.

Why the rant about American Christians?’ Well, I used to be one, and as a participant of such a culture (or sub-culture, actually…), I cared less about the world around me and mostly about my safe, comfortable Christian-hood. A warning about global-warming wouldn’t have phased me much, and I probably would have just shrugged and said, ‘Well, Jesus is about to come back, so what does it matter?’ After all, Al Gore is a Democrat (which 98% of American Christians consider to be obviously not God’s political party), and so therefore he obviously can’t be a Christian and why would we care what he has to say? I know, it’s a little cynical, but it’s not far from the truth…

My point? Care of the earth is an issue at which Christians should be at the fore-front. No, I’m not saying abandon issues such as abortion, family values or other ones. I’m just suggesting that we need not treat this as if it were something that is un-important.

Nuff said…

Go see the movie.

(Note: I just want to add that I’ve now seen and heard too much from either sides of the debate to fully commit to either position.¬† But having said that, even if we aren’t causing global warming as much as some think we are, there are still plenty of reasons to live differently and be eco-friendly, etc.)

buying identity

New Zealand is becoming more like America every minute.

And it’s not a good thing.

Yet another Temple for Capitalism (a.k.a. shopping mall) has just recently had it’s grand opening not far from my flat. So many people were flocking to this Marketing Mecca that traffic was jammed all opening-day long.

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about how my standard of living (and all of the decisions I make to keep it in place) affects the world around me. It’s not been a pleasant exercise for me. I’ve had to realise that many of the choices I make (most are daily) have very negative consequences. This has caused me to think more and more about many things. Take-away beverage (coffee, coke, etc.) cups, plastic shopping bags, plastic water bottles, ridiculously in-efficient and wasteful product packaging, disposable goods and other such things don’t just disappear when we throw them away.

Allow me to share with you some of the terminology that pushes this type of consumerism along. An article (advertisement?) in the Tamaki and Districts Times, celebrated (venerated?) stage one of the opening of the new Consumerist Worship Centre in Mt. Wellington known as Sylvia Park Shopping Centre. Here is an excerpt.

‘Ultimately, Sylvia Park Shopping Centre will feature over 180 specialty stores, indoor/outdoor foodcourt, The Warehouse Extra, Foodtown and Pak n’ Save, a top-line specialty fashion precinct that is set to offer consumers an unprecedented range of fashion labels from a single location, cafes, restaurants and a state of the art theatre and entertainment complex… …Angus McNaughton says that the retail offering at Sylvia Park is the strongest and most diverse of any centre in New Zealand… …there will be brands and stores making their debut appearance on the New Zealand market to provide shoppers at Sylvia Park with the most comprehensive fashion choices available.’

Another article features the ‘new specialised retail store’ Howard’s Storage World with this opening:

‘…families strive to cope with increasing collections of electronic gadgets, toys for weekend warriors and wardrobes overflowing with clothing, shoes and accessories.’

Hmmm… Anyone see a pattern here?

The connection between our ‘comprehensive fashion choices’ and our ‘wardrobes overflowing with clothing’ is both humorous and deeply unsettling. Also unsettling are the use of the words ‘strongest’ and ‘diverse’ in a sentence about a retail centre that promotes anything but strength or diversity. True strength might help us to realise that we don’t actually need any more clothes. It might begin to reveal just how obediently we are dancing to the beat of the fashion drum (which waits till sales have peaked and then changes pace to generate another peak). True diversity has nothing to do with people letting clothing manufacturers tell them what looks good and why they should dress just like everyone else.

I know we may think ‘it’s just business’ and that it’s harmless, but I think we really need to be aware of the impact that this has on our identities.

Our identities?

Yes. Our identities.

You see, if they can get us to agree with them that we are simply ‘shoppers’ or ‘consumers’ then they have succeeded in altering how we view ourselves – and our identity consists of how we view ourselves. We are not concerned with staying ‘in fashion’ until we are told that we need to ‘make room in your wardrobe for the new season.’ We are quite content with what we have until we are reminded by countless billboards, store-fronts and countless other forms of advertising that we are about to be left in the dust if we don’t keep up with the times. The more I begin to see advertising and marketing for what it really is, the less I’m buying it (literally). We pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ but happily gaze at magazines that tell us how we ought to dress (and also ‘educate’ us as to how we might have ‘healthier’ sex lives) and walk around malls ready to give money to companies who remind us that we can’t do without what they have to offer.

I’m no longer seeing these issues as spiritually neutral. I want to live my life thinking about serving others, not myself. I want my imagination to be captured by the call of the Gospel on my life, not held captive by the call of Globalist agendas. I want my identity to be informed and solidified by the Gospel of Christ, not by anything else.

May we support and encourage one another in our true identity which we could never buy, but that was bought for us with Blood so priceless it could never be sold.

choosing temptation?

The sign read…

Shirts. $15.

It’s safe to say that I’m not obsessed with fashion, but to say that I couldn’t care less about how I look wouldn’t exactly be true either!

At any rate, I like a good deal as I was walking past this particular clothing store, I almost popped in. I didn’t, though. I turned up my nose (in anti-materialism smugness) and strode past. I was quite proud of myself for not visiting the store… until my thoughts took me further.

Sure, I had chosen not to enter the store for some quite good reasons. One of those being that I have enough shirts that are wear-able, so I didn’t really need another one. But as I thought about my actions further, it became clear to me that the most motivating reason for my recent ‘financial carefulness’ was none other than the fact that I had realised my need to save money for my upcoming wedding, honeymoon and receptions!

It turned out that my choice wasn’t driven by the pious, super-spiritual, anti-commercial motivation that had made me feel like I was so much better than everyone else…

This got me thinking about temptation.

A popular church leader has rightly said that we can’t say we are faithful unless we’ve ever been tempted to be unfaithful. We can’t say that we have integrity unless we’ve ever had the opportunity to lie and resisted. We’ve no right to call ourselves patient unless we’ve gone through stressful circumstances, etc.

Don’t worry. I’m not saying that we should go looking for temptation.

I am saying, however, that temptation is a part of God’s plan.

Yep.

God Himself promises never to tempt us (see James 1:13), and we always have a way to ‘escape‘ when we are tempted – which sometimes means not allowing or ‘fleeing’ from even the opportunity to be tempted (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). However, He most certainly allows and uses temptation in our lives (see the entire book of Job). Actually, we are all tempted. So was Jesus (though He didn’t give in… see Hebrews 4:15)

I’ve been reminded that it’s really just prideful of me to be so proud of my little miniature ‘victories.’ Would I be so satisfied with my wardrobe if I had plenty of money in the checking account?
I’ve also been reminded that when we are careless with our choices (where we go, what we do, when we do it, what we view, who we spend time with, etc.), we shouldn’t be amazed that we often find ourselves giving in to temptation!!!

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12 (emphasis mine)

humble pie inc.

It’s interesting how various Bible verses have their ‘day in the sun.’ A very popular verse recently has been 2 Chronicles 7:14. This verse has made it’s way into many articles, books and songs. It goes like this:

“If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I’ve heard lots of talk about what this verse says about prayer, seeking God’s face, and turning from sin, but I’ve not heard a lot about humility. If you look at the verse, humility is listed first.

What is the opposite of humility? Pride. I believe that pride comes from having confidence or assurance in anything other than Christ. Boasting is prideful. Paul said that he would not boast in anything except in the Lord. Paul’s confidence and assurance was not in himself, but in God. This exemplifies the kind of humility alluded to in our featured verse.

Humility means more than boasting only in the Lord. It also means that we must not ignore the way things really are. By this, I mean that we must admit when things are not as they should be. After all, is there really ever a time when we have it all together? Is there ever a time when we don’t need God? Is there ever a time when we can truly depend on ourselves?

In Christian circles, we learn all too quickly how to speak Christian-ese. We are taught to always be happy, positive and enthusiastic. Happiness comes and goes. Joy, however, lasts through even the tough times. Joy admits it when things just aren’t going well, and Joy isn’t shaken because Joy comes from confidence and assurance in Christ.

God uses tough times and allows ‘negative’ circumstances in our lives to cause us to be more dependent on Him! It was at times like this Paul said that when he was weak, then he was very strong! Weakness in yourself = strength in the Lord! Humility about yourself = boasting in the Lord!

According to the featured verse, we can pray, seek God and try to turn from sin, but unless we are humble, it doesn’t matter.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:10

love and firewood

Attention couples!!!

We’re quite educated in the ways of showing affection, aren’t we? Two flawless bodies on a billboard with arms and legs intertwined in new, creative ways… just shocking enough to make you want to buy the clothes they are half-wearing… two people on a park bench rubbing each other up and down as if they were freezing to death… Should we be listening to these suggestions though? Why or why not? Affection is harmless enough, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste any time trying to discourage any certain forms of affection. I do, however, want to think for a moment about the contrast between physicality and commitment.

The physical stuff is visible, concrete and undeniable. The ideas behind them are invisible, abstract and often cloudy. Also, the two can sometimes be totally separate. Consider people in modeling or acting. The physicality is there, but I doubt there is any commitment or relationship. Conversely, in some marriages gone cold, there may be a certain level of commitment, but no passion or intimacy.

So how in the world can we build strongly committed relationships with healthy physicality? How can such a balance be started and maintained? Is it possible?

I think the answer lies in a helpful analogy I’ve learned from Tommy Nelson in his study on The Song of Solomon.

He relates physical passion to gasoline, and rightly points out that a relationship built on that alone may have large flames for a little while, but has nothing left afterwards. He talks about the need for the ‘firewood’ of commitment and character.

I think it’s interesting to note as well that the more firewood you have, the longer the fire lasts! Are we sometimes guilty of impatiently gathering a few small twigs, drowning them with gasoline and feeling frustrated that the fire doesn’t last? Possibly?

God is more than aware of the pain and hurting that comes with failed relationships. He doesn’t want us to go through the pain! He wants to give us His best!

I’m not a fan of all the charts, graphs or rules that people try to create for successful relationships, but I will say this: For the sake of your heart, keep the gasoline in the can until you’ve gathered the firewood of commitment and character. Then you can enjoy the warmth and security of a committed relationship.

help! i’m not acting right!

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Here’s a theologically loaded statement:
Right beliefs (ortho-doxy) create right feelings and lead to right actions (ortho-praxy).

As Christ-ians, our life (and thereby, our life-STYLE as well) is all about Christ. This is true isn’t it? Whatever we think, feel or do ought to be thought, felt or done in regard to Christ. Pretty amazing to think that Christ wants to renew our thinking, give us joy, and (as if that’s not enough) DO great things through us.

Thoughts
It starts with our thinking or our beliefs, doesn’t it? They are of utmost importance. When we actually believe that the God of the universe would not just merely be interested in us, but also would be willing to die for us, that has an effect on us!

Feelings
Once we are thinking straight, and it starts to sink in that Christ paid a debt that we would never have been able to pay, I’m just guessing that our feelings should take perhaps a small positive turn! That is what joy is all about! Would a prisoner that had been freed from a death-sentence show no emotion? Well, whether you realise it or not, or just have forgotten, If you are a Christian, you were a prisoner, and you have been set free from your death sentence!

Actions
This is where it gets interesting. We tend to be terribly distracted when our actions (or someone else’s) are either lacking or not of the right “kind.” If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of thinking that our actions shape and form our beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our REAL thoughts and beliefs are seen in the way we act. It’s a tricky distinction that can easily be missed. Put plainly, you can’t serve your way into having Christian beliefs. You can, however, believe your way into serving in a Christian way. As church-type-people, we often act like the former statement is true. We care less about what people believe or how they feel, and instead just try to find ways to get all of the Christian jobs done! We must not do this.

If you are experiencing a ‘dry spell’ in your Christian life, check your beliefs and feelings. One of the many great things about the Christian life is that we are not simply converted and then put on a shelf, we are grown, tested, tried, bruised, etc. These bumps are to cause us to remember Who we are intended to rely upon. The dry spells aren’t there to get us to try harder, but to help us realise our inability to please God with our flesh, and remember Who our strength is. One of the greatest passages in the Bible about God’s will for living the Christian life is the beginning of the 12th chapter of Romans. Among other things, it says to “be transformed (continually) by the renewing of your mind.”

Thoughts are important.

Blessings,

Dale