Archive for the 'Theology Reloaded' Category

Jan 29 2009

Rethinking If You Want To Make God Laugh, Tell Him Your Plans

Published by under Life,Theology Reloaded

At the moment I’m writing this, I wish I was back at my mom’s house in Michigan. On the second floor, I have the second room on the left. My high school choice of navy blue carpet still covers the floor. And on a bookshelf in the corner is a book covered with wallpaper.

Whoa, Nelly!
I went to elementary school at Nelly E. Bird Elementary. Couldn’t make that name up if I tried! In second grade, we wrote a story about things we’d like to do in life. We wrote it on special paper and personally illustrated each page. The books were then bound by a real book binder (no spiral binding) and given a wallpaper treatment for a book cover.

My writing back then was simple, my drawing poor. I consistently sketched myself looking like a big, skinny tree with arms and box feet. It was clear my talent didn’t lie in art.

The reason I wish I was at home is because I would like to scan the pages and put them up here, but a description will have to suffice for now. I only remember two pages. In one, I am riding a motorcycle because I’m in the old Nintendo game, Excitebike. In another, I’m playing in the Super Bowl. That page has a picture of a really big tree (me) running down the field with a football in one hand and a carrot in the other. The page reads something like, “I’m going to play in the Super Bowl and eat carrots every day because they give you good eyesight.” I showed such intellectual promise as a 2nd grader. Unfortunately, that one sentence was probably the highlight of my entire educational career.

Isn’t That Cute?
You’re picturing me as a 2nd grader, aren’t you? You see my little head and want to ruffle my hair and say, “Aww, you’re so cute. You want to play in the Super Bowl.” Little kids don’t know they’re being patronized at that age when someone says that to them. But as we get older, if someone jokes about our plans and dreams, we don’t like it too much. In fact, one of the most common things you’ll hear professional athletes say after winning a big game is, “Nobody believed in us! We had to come out here and prove them wrong! We shocked the world!”

Yesterday night, I was talking with my friend Paul about how God views our dreams. There’s a phrase that’s pretty popular right now that tries to summarize: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Now, I’m about to get medieval. So if you love that phrase, I want you to know that the remainder of this blog is intended for instruction in God’s nature! It is not an attack on you!

Rethinking Dreams
The problem with the saying is that it’s just not biblical! There are only a handful of times in Scripture that we’re told God laughs. Each time, He is laughing at wicked people who are opposing Him – not at His children. In fact, the Proverbs tell us a totally different story!

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
(Proverbs 16:3)

In essence, this verse negates the popular phrase we use today. It says, “Yes! TELL GOD your plans, and they will succeed.” Now there’s a caveat to this a couple verses earlier…

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.
(Proverbs 16:1)

In other words, “Go ahead and plan things, but the Lord will be the One who ultimately decides what happens.”

There’s no laughing going on here!

(NOTE: If you’re interested in a firm biblical example, read Nehemiah 1-2:9 and look at how Nehemiah makes a plan to speak with King Artaxerxes about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, communicates that plan to God, speaks with Artaxerxes and, ultimately, has success.)

Keep the Baby, Lose the Bath Water
Our popular saying – “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans” – is well-intentioned, but communicated poorly. There is a truth that phrase attempts to convey, but it does so too generally! We’ve seen that plans are encouraged by the Lord! But there are at least two instances where our plans are not received well by Him.

World Traveler
How often do we tell people things like, “I’ll see you next week!” James says, if done wrongly, we presume too much when we speak those words.

Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16)

If we plan our lives without acknowledging God’s control over the details, James says it’s bad. Remember Proverbs 16? “…but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.” He is in control of our lives. As a Christian, to plan apart from Him is to be a boaster and bragger – to pretend you’re in control. This is one way we can plan poorly.

Wrong Motiver
Earlier in the letter of James, he says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 3:2-3).

Imagine you make a plan. And you tell God about that plan through prayer. “God, I want promotions at work so I can have an enormous house and all the material things I desire.” James asks, “What is your motive here? Is it so you can invite the poor or lonely into your home? If that’s your plan, God is probably going to bless you. But is your plan purely to satisfy yourself? If so, that is why your plans are constantly frustrated.” (NOTE: I’m NOT saying that God ONLY frustrates plans when we’re being selfish. He does it for other reasons, too).

The End
Biblically, brothers and sisters, God will never laugh at your plans! He laughs at the wicked who oppose Him! He’s not going to muss your hair because you want to play in the Super Bowl or bring drinking water to 1,000 villages in Africa or speak about Jesus to a tribe in Papua New Guinea or run a company that devotes its profits to His work or express your creativity in a way that makes Him look great! He’s not laughing, He’s listening! All we have to do is align our plans and dreams with His heart and what He’s trying to do on the earth! Speak your heart to Him! Tell Him what you want to do. And wait for His reply. He wants us to dream big dreams and make big plans to do great things! God is bouty bout all that! He’s looking for guys and girls to do His work! He wants to hear our plans!

19 responses so far

Jul 20 2007

Three Reasons We React So Poorly To Suffering

Published by under Theology Reloaded

My friend, Chris, wrote about a family who has a 3-year old son named Eli. Eli has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer that is pretty much threatening his life. When we hear of such things, many of us get angry, question God, and ask the perpetual, “Why?” Though it may seem heartless (I promise, it’s not), my question is, “Why not?” What follows is my comment I left Chris and why I think we react so poorly to suffering.

To begin, an observation: Oftentimes, I don’t really understand the truths I claim to understand. Apparently, e=mc2. But I have no idea what that means. Something about energy, mass, and the speed of light squared, but I don’t REALLY understand it. The truth is beyond me. I COULD labor to come to understanding of that truth, but e=mc2 isn’t something I’m personally willing to spend my time on. With that said, here are a few thoughts that have come at a great price to me, personally, and, I think, ARE worth spending time on…

1) Quick dismissal of God’s sovereignty. We claim He is in control but get frustrated with Him when He allows things that fall outside the scope of what WE define as acceptable. The question shouldn’t be “God, why have You allowed this?” (a masked way of questioning His goodness and imagining we know better than Him) but “God, why do I view this as so grievous and an offense against me?” (a way of questioning my own ignorance of His ways). John Piper has said something very helpful. He said that we are finite creatures. Imagine us viewing a massive mosaic. Our limits only allow us to see a small piece of the mosaic. At times, the area we view will be beautiful; at other times, black and ugly. God sees the whole mosaic – the white, the black, red, green, everything. To Him, it is a coherent whole. Yes, it is broken but it is whole and He sees His purpose for everything.

2) Quick dismissal of heaven’s beauty. Why do we celebrate life on earth so much? Why is there such a desire to keep people alive for so long? I’m not saying I want Eli to die! But this place, relative to heaven, is an absolute dump. If Eli dies, he, presumably, gets to spend eternity with Jesus in eternal joy! If heaven were more of a reality for us, would we really get so upset when people who are going to heaven die?

3) Quick dismissal of God’s means for sanctification. For whatever reason, He chose trials and hardship to bring us closer to Him. James told us to count them pure joy. Why? They FORCE us to seek Him. You and I both know that times of feeling abandoned in the desert compel people to hate God or pursue Him with their entire soul. When our lives are turned upsidedown, our faith is tested and often strengthened!

Like many Christians, I want God’s will in all things! My prayers are for Eli’s family and friends to be drawn closer to Jesus throughout this time! Whether now or later, Eli will die – as will we all! But God is still God and He still mercifully calls us closer to Him every day because of what Jesus did! And THAT has been His aim all along – for us to know Him! As there are degrees of depth in human relationships, so too, with Him. Someday, we will know Him [when we go to heaven], even as we are fully known by Him now. If that is His aim, then why let it tarry? It’s BETTER! Whether Jesus comes back first or we go to Him in death, the RICHES of His presence and heaven are afforded to us by believing in His sacrifice!

In my estimation, our theologies often betray us and cause us far greater pain than need be. Maybe a lesson to learn from tragedy is to re-examine our theology and ask if it makes biblical sense. Don’t get me wrong, I imagine that having a child in such pain is tremendously difficult! But maybe less so if we believe the right things about why God made us, Jesus, salvation, heaven, and this world. In that way, I ask God to comfort the hurting by showing them more of their hearts and right theology and more of Himself! May it be so every day for all of us – with or without tragedy!

No responses yet

Jul 02 2007

Jesus Didn’t Come To Boost Our Self-Esteem

Published by under Theology Reloaded

I was listening to a song today that said something not-so-unusual for Christian music. The idea was that if you or I were the only person alive, Jesus still would have come and died for us – because He loves us that much. The problem with that idea is that it’s not wholly true. It almost assumes that we are the only reason Jesus came to earth. That’s not true. Taken by itself, those words are framed to boost our self-esteem by letting us know we’re so important to Jesus. That is a dangerous thing to believe by itself, in my opinion, because it loses touch with greater realities about the nature of God and His mission and ends.

Right before Jesus is killed, He says, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The point I want to make with this brief entry is that Jesus did not only come to save us. His mission had everything to do with the glory of God. And it just so happens that God’s glory is evidently seen when His Son dies for a people (us) who only deserve judgment and wrath.

It is a subtle distinction I am making here, but I think it is profound. Often when we say, “Jesus would come for you even if you were the only person alive,” we leave that statement untethered to broader truths. The first being that we are incredibly sinful people. The reason His coming for us is amazing is NOT because it makes us feel wanted or gives us the chance to enter heaven; it’s amazing because, by nature, we are “objects of wrath” (Eph 2:3). We DESERVE the judgment and punishment God holds on us apart from Christ. And second, the truth of Jesus coming is incredible because of His love for the Father and Holy Spirit and His desire for the Father to be glorified (John 17:1, quoted above). He is devoted to the will of God to His own detriment (as He prays immediately before His death in the garden of Gethsemane – Luke 22:42).

It might seem I’m splitting hairs, but I’m not. The next time you read or hear someone say that Jesus would come for you even if you were the only one alive, put that statement within the broader context of truth. When you do, it will cause you to see a more complete picture of who God is and just how amazing He is.  Jesus came to save us even though we don’t deserve to be saved. Jesus came to save us to glorify the Father – even to His own detriment and humiliation. Praise Him!

One response so far

Apr 24 2007

The Cause, Trap, And Cure of Reductionism

Published by under Theology Reloaded

All Italians are jerks. That’s an example of reductionism. Granted, it may be possible that all the Italian people a PARTICULAR PERSON knows are all jerks. But certainly not all Italians are jerks!

The problem with reductionism is that it takes micro-level truths and extracts them out to macro-level truth claims. What the crap am I talking about? NT Wright has just written a new book called “Evil and the Justice of God.” One theme he returns to throughout the book is the idea that the battle between good and evil runs right through the middle of us all. While we are often inclined to look at good vs. evil as us vs. them (as the War on Terror is often framed), a more biblical approach, in Wright’s view, is to see evil in us. So strongly does Wright believe this that he virtually ignores the fact that dozens of Psalms are framed in the us vs. them paradigm. David is constantly chased by evil men who want to harm him. It was the same for Christ. It was the same for Paul. It will be the same for all who want to live a godly life (2 Tim. 3:12-13)

And this is the problem with reductionism. Reductionism takes PART of the truth and elevates it as the WHOLE truth with no regard to other parts of the truth. I believe that reductionism has been responsible for much of the fragmenting of the Church into denominations – that certain groups of people have, at one time or another, emphasized one set of gospel truths ABOVE another set.

Though I think many people have the best of intentions in chasing reductionistic thought, I trace their mistake to two things: lazy thinking and pride. In many respects, the emerging church is a perfect example of all this. While many emergent types have found within their souls something lacking from the Christianity they were raised in, their mistake is to throw out all the thought that has come before them. There is an arrogance that somehow we in the 21st century have it all figured out — as if it’s all downhill after this and people in the 22nd century will look to us for all the answers. I doubt it.

One of the most remarkable things about the Reformed thinkers is that they metaphorically rose Jesus from the dead. During the Middle Ages, Christ had been emptied of His deity and importance in almost all places in the world. The Reformed thinkers brought Him back to His rightful center in the theology of Christianity. Ironically, in trying to find a “more authentic” spirituality, many emergent types are emptying Christ of His pre-eminence in their theologies. I am NOT trying to argue that Christianity as we know it today is perfect. Anyone who reads my blogs knows I see lots wrong. What I am arguing is that much of the searching is resulting in a regression of Christian thought – especially when Jesus is degraded from Savior to mere friend or worse.

This is not Let’s Make a Deal. We don’t have to trade a good prize to get an even better prize. We can hold the good and still go for better. There are vast swaths of theology that we hold correctly. And there are swaths we are lacking or believe wrongly. In speaking on spiritual discernment, Paul said, “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). The solution isn’t to LET GO of everything, but to TEST everything.

Why does this matter? It matters because many people today say that Christianity doesn’t resonate with them. And they have begun seeking alternate belief systems. The trap of reductionism is that it tricks us. Suppose I told a 4-year old that their only parent was their dad. The kid grows up believing he doesn’t have a mom. He thinks the whole truth is that dad is the only parent. Sucks to be the kid, huh? They’ve just been cheated out of having a mom. Reductionism does the same – it takes away opportunities of understanding the world in its entirety. In the theological realm, it means nothing less than our relationship with God HIMSELF being affected – we don’t know Him as we could because we’ve accepted only PART of the truth as the WHOLE truth.

How can we be cured of reductionism or sure that we won’t fall prey to its downfalls? The truth is that we’re never 100% covered, but we can take steps. First, we need to be humble enough people to know that we’re not 100% right about everything. It seems obvious, but we sure do spend a lot of time arguing about things we’re not sure about, don’t we? That’s an indication of pride. Second, we need to remember that the “new truth” we read about in a book or hear on TV or in a movie may be 1) complete rubbish or 2) SUPPLEMENT the truth we already believe. There are VERY few instances in which a “new truth” should entirely SUPPLANT the whole body of previously held knowedge. For example, when I read in NT Wright’s book that a proper understanding of evil is that it runs through ME, I can say, “Yes, that is true” but it doesn’t mean that I then say, “So that means I should not think of evil as us vs. them.” If that were the case, no one would have acted against the Nazis. I have reason to believe that evil runs through me AND other people and that I need to confront evil in both.

This is a far more meandering blog than I would have liked. I have been thinking about this theme for about a week now and I will probably revisit it sometime soon. The bottom line is that the teachers of the Church (i.e. people like me) have been charged at helping people not fall prey to reductionist thinking (inside the broader goal of preparing God’s people for good works – Eph. 4:11-12). It is exactly what Paul meant when he said that he “didn’t shrink from declaring…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Bits and pieces or the whole thing? Pepperonis never impressed me that much, but a pizza does. I want the whole thing. It’s more work, but it’s worth it to know the God of the universe, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as completely as possible!

3 responses so far

Next »