Friday, June 20, 2008

Not a Kid's Song Anymore

I don't know about you, but I remember singing "Put Your Hand in the Hand..." at VBS every year and enjoying it. I thought it was way cooler than "Jesus Loves Me" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands", which were the standard fare at VBS. But as I got older, of course, the song really didn't do anything for me anymore. As a children's song, it's cool; as a grown up song, it's kinda cheesy. I was somewhat disappointed in this because I really liked the melody. Oh well...another children's song lost to adulthood...

...until, that is, I heard Donny Hathaway sing it. Of course, Donny Hathaway could probably make any song sound good; but this song takes on a whole new dimension in his hands. When you hear him sing "Put you Hand in the Hand of the Man...", you realize what a powerful song it really is. He takes a great children's song and transforms it into an awesome spiritual! Just by the emotion of his voice and the arrangement of the music (and his lyrical liberty), he makes this song speak to the hearts of those who know this Man of Galilee; and to those who have only been introduced to Him. In Donny's hands, I again want to walk with this Man and talk with this Man, and to let this Man take my hand and guide me wherever He wishes. In Donny's hands, this song speaks powerfully of the strength and care of this Man to a weak and hurting soul. With the soulful musicianship and heartfelt voice of Donny, this song has once again transcended the simplicity of its message. If this song doesn't make you want to get up and praise the Lord, I think you may be dead already!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Alaska & Shalom

My wife and I went on an Alaskan cruise last year. This was our first cruise and we wanted to make it a memorable one. Having never even been to Alaska before, I wasn't sure what to expect. People have told us how majestic and pristine it is, but it's hard to imagine what someone is talking about unless you experience it yourself. Well...majestic and pristine are certainly accurate words to describe Alaska, but I think I would also use the word Shalomic. Based on the definition of Shalom that I gave in a previous post Alaska is not technically "shalomic", of course, because the curse still functions within the created order. But, based on the reality of Shalom as:
Universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which
natural needs ar satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of
affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and
welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way
things ought to be. (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. "Not the Way it's Supposed to Be")
... the "universal flourishing" of God's created order as it exists in "harmonic wholeness" of total integration within itself...well then, I could say that when in Alaska I had the feeling of Shalom. To witness the beauty and granduer of a part of the world that almost seems untouched by human hands is to witness the created order existing almost as if it were still the 7th Day and God was "resting". To witness a portion of creation thriving simply because it is what it is, simply because it is "living" in conformity to its "created nature", is to begin to understand things "...the way they are supposed to be". I felt "shalom" because I experience Shalom--in Christ!

The reality of Shalom in the present world will not exist until Christ returns ushering in the New Heaven and New Earth, when the Created Order will experience its Cosmic redemption. But as those who have been "born again" by the Spirit and have experienced the redemption that is found in Christ, we, who are now Children of God by the New Birth, we now experience the first fruits of the "shalom" to come. Estrangement is gone for the Child of God and we now experience the "peace" that is intimate communion with God, our Father, through Christ. And as those who are joined to Christ by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we see the world as it really is and by the power of the Spirit, we live as those who really are a part of the New Creation--now!

In Christ the New Creation has come in those who have been (and are continually) transformed by the Spirit. We are New Creations, as Paul tells us, and we are the first fruits of the Shalom to come to the entire Created Order. The lives that we now live, if we live our lives according to the truth of who we are in Christ, testify to the fact that Christ has come and crushed the serpent's head; that Christ as undone the curse and has restored all things to God! We, as God's People, testify to the world and to the Created Order that Christ's work in restoration is finished--all that awaits is the consummation of all things (the "summing up" of all things in Christ) when the "groaning" of creation will be turned to "joy" when it too is finally redeemed at the revealing of the Sons of God at Christ's return!

Shalom has come in the people of God in the Person and Work of Christ; and because of this, we can "taste" shalom in the created order now. We can understand creation properly and our part in it. Remember, we as human beings are not wholly distinct from creation--we are a part of it! And in Christ we can now "see" reality the way it really is; we can now function properly as God's Image-Bearers and stewards of His creation; we can live "rightly" within the created order because we have been restored in our relationship to God, one another and the created order in which we live. Because of the Shalom that exists in us as Children of God in Christ, we now live in this world with the goal and purpose of advancing the "universal flourishing" and "harmonic wholeness" of the created order as we were commisioned to back in the Garden.

Alaska was a great experience for us in a number of ways; but mostly because of the opportunity to "taste" a little bit of the Shalom to come. Now, when listening to "Alaska" by Cactus, don't expect to be transported to the middle of Glacier Bay or to be soothed by the sound of a waterfall splashing at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier; just enjoy one of the best blues songs ever written about Alaska. Of course, it may also be the only one ever written about Alaska--son enjoy!!

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Emptiness of the WOF

I was watching some WOF preacher (Kenneth Copeland) on the tube the other day (yes…sometimes I just enjoy torturing myself—and my wife!), and he made the usual ridiculous statement to the effect that, “God never intended anyone to get sick…” blah…blah…blah! I’ve heard all this nonsense before, countless times. This is just the typical “name it and claim it” shtick that all of these WOF charlatans propagate on their way to milking millions of dollars out of blind and ignorant sheep. I say “blind” and “ignorant”, as if these people are innocent; but the more I think about it, the more it strikes me that these WOF sham-artist “salesmen” are simply preying on the selfishness and self-centeredness of those who think that they deserve “the world” and all it has to offer—money, fame, health, success, etc. Just look at the “congregation” in these churches and tell me that I’m wrong. I realize that there are many in these pews that are simply deceived because this is all the "Christianity" that they've known, and the leaders of this movement will be held accountable. But we, the "layman", are also responsible; we must take some of the blame for the self-centeredness of our hearts and for allowing these charlatans to prey on our selfish, sinful desires. If it wasn't for us, these wolves would not be in business!

Now I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to the truly hurting souls who simply desire God to “touch” them (or a family member) and heal their disease because they are truly desperate for relief; I do believe that God still miraculously heals today and that (some) people who are at these “healing meetings” are truly seeking God out of desperation and sincerity for His Glory. I mean…the Bible shows us that there were many people who sought the healing touch of Christ Himself or His disciples; but that was a completely different set of circumstances than what we have today. Jesus came as the long-awaited King and Messiah, and His Person and Work (of redemption) were authenticated by His fulfilling the Word of God in His (and His disciples) healings and miraculous works. Christ proved who He was and what He was to do by “being” the prophesied One—authenticated by the miracles that He and His disciples performed!

But what lies at the heart of this notion that God doesn’t want me sick or poor or in need (of anything!) is the idea that I deserve to have health, riches and power; that my life is somehow less than it’s supposed to be if I suffer in any way, shape or form; that it’s unfair for me to be in want or need of anything! This is the epitome of self-centeredness: I want it, so I should have it! This is not a Biblical idea; it is a satanic idea that breeds off of the (natural) un-redeemed self-centeredness of our hearts—the very thing that Christ came to cleanse us from! It was the self-centered, autonomous desire of our father Adam that led us into this estrangement from God in the first place. Christ came to cleanse us from the sin of our autonomous unbelief and to restore us to the Father in our true humanity; a humanity that finds all of our joys and happiness in our relationship to God as Children to a Father. We are dependent upon Him in every way; and He says that His grace is sufficient for our every need. By the indwelling Spirit, we are now Christ-centered, not self-centered, and we praise God in all things!

Before we come to know God through Christ, our minds are naturally bent toward seeking our own good (however we define it) and in the way that we want (whatever that looks like to us). And how does this usually look? Like “the world”, of course, because before we are Born Again by the Spirit through faith in Christ, we are of the "world". By the "world” I’m referring to the “worldly system”, the way the “natural” man thinks (the person who has not been transformed by the Spirit into a child of God through the New Birth). The world defines success and happiness by financial prosperity, healthy (and beautiful) bodies, and popularity or power. Every advertisement is an enticement toward these “ideals” because this is how the “world” defines happiness. But (biblical) Christianity is radically different!

Christ says that His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ teachings and those of His apostle’s are directly opposed to the superficial, self-centered propaganda of the world. Happiness and success in biblical terms is found only in Christ. The Bible teaches that we are not to live our lives consumed by desire for the goods of this world, but to be content with what God has given us and to keep our minds focused on “heavenly things”; that is, things of spiritual importance. And what kinds of things are these?—things that glorify our God, the truth of the Gospel! Our focus should be on living our lives to the glory of Christ our Lord so that we become a testimony of the grace of God in us. With our minds and hearts focused on “heavenly things”, we live lives of love toward one another and the world because our happiness is in God—alone! Our calling is not to be of the world, defining success and happiness by the world’s standards; but rather, our calling is to be in the world all the while testifying to the world that happiness is “other-worldly”. “My kingdom”, Jesus says, “is not of this world”!

Christ’s kingdom is in this world, through His people who share the Spirit of God; but it’s not of this world. It’s an entirely different mind-set. The citizens of Christ’s kingdom are those who find their happiness in Christ alone. The citizens of Christ’s kingdom are those who live their lives in this world for the glory of God, not the treasures of this world. The citizens of Christ’s kingdom do not look to this world for their source of contentment, but they look, by faith, toward the “better country”, the “heavenly country” (heavenly things!) of which they are a part. It is here, in the presence of Christ by His indwelling Spirit that the citizen of the kingdom finds all joy, peace and happiness. The “goods” of this world (financial prosperity, health, power, etc.) mean nothing to the citizen of the kingdom because she has her joy in Christ, not in her life in this world and this world’s ideals. The biblical Christian is not consumed with desire for the goods of this world, but for the good of this world, i.e. the redemption of her fellow Man!

The biblical Christian, as also the non-believer, still seeks his own good. But unlike the unredeemed person, the biblical Christian defines his good as God defines it—in union with Christ! The unbeliever finds his good in the goods or provision of this world; the Christian finds his good in the good provision of God Himself in Christ. The Christian’s happiness is in his relationship with God in Christ, with little regard to the “things” of this world.

Copeland and his ilk are living only for this world and what it has to offer them—and they will reap what they sow! They want this world and what it has to offer so bad…and they will have it—at the expense of the “heavenly country”, the country that Abraham and the patriarchs so desired! This is the country that we long for even now by faith, as did our father Abraham. We are citizens of the kingdom now—and yet, we still look by faith for the return of our Lord and the redemption of the Cosmos. We still look by faith for the New Jerusalem in the consummation of the New Heavens and New Earth! The true Christian lives by faith, not by sight. The WOF movement lives by sight, not knowing what faith is. Copeland and his deceivers cater to our inherent selfishness—and we willingly support them in their deception! I don’t know who is more culpable: the so-called “teachers” or those who willingly and selfishly support them hoping to gain “the world”.

Having said all of that, however, Copeland’s words do ring true—from the proper perspective. Indeed, God did not intend for His Image-Bearers to ever be sick, poor or otherwise downtrodden in any way. Remember, when God created the world and all things in it He proclaimed it “good”. The Garden of Eden was a “type” of the Shalomic existence that God had prepared for His creation. With The Fall, however, came estrangement and the disruption of Shalom. But with the coming of Christ, God is restoring Shalom and will one day, upon Christ’s return, establish the New Heavens and New Earth with the redemption of the Cosmos; and in this way, Shalom will once again reign throughout God’s good creation! Until then, we live in a fallen world and are subject to the effects of sin in this fallen world. God’s purpose for us as His children is to glorify Him by testifying to the world that God has brought redemption in Christ and through Christ has restored our relationship to Him! When the “world” sees us content in every circumstance of life, happy just to know God as Father regardless of what our lot in life is, then they see the grace of God in Christ—and they want what we have! Our "apologetic" for the Gospel is the life we live in intimate relationship with our Father whatever the circumstances of our lives.

Copeland offers life in this world; Jesus offers LIFE everlasting! Who are you going to believe? As for me and my house, I choose the Lord!