The Threshing Floor

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Jesus is for Losers

As we are in the midst of Holy Week, I've been struck again by the sheer scandal that is the crucifixion. I'm amazed once again that Jesus would die for people who are self-centered, selfish, arrogant, and downright unpleasant to be around. Perhaps even more than that, I'm struck that He didn't hold his nose while doing it. He didn't just die for us, He lived with us for 33 years. He lived among people who missed the point, tried to use Him for their own purposes, and many of whom deserted Him while He was facing death. In other words, I'm still amazed at the Incarnation.

I saw this post over at Michael Spencer's blog, the Internet Monk, the other day, and he really lays out in more detail what I'm getting at. Why is that so many Christians are, well, so messed up? Why does the "victorious Christian life" seem to allude us? And perhaps beyond that, the bigger question is why is so hard for us to not pretend that we are living the "perfect Christian life"? Why do we spend so much time putting up facades? Michael describes our situation as this:
Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren’t interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it’s a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we’re alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a “Bible teacher” tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I’m really better now. I’m a good Christian. I’m not a mess anymore. I’m different from other people.
So is there any hope for us? Is there a way to live a life that God wants us to live while still admitting that we are broken people? I believe there is. It means that we must totally rely on Christ and accept the fact that He will not reject no matter how screwed up or broken we are. Again, from Michael:
I will be accused of a serious lack of good news, I’m sure, so listen. At the moment I am winning, Jesus is with me. At the moment I am losing, Jesus is with me and guarantees that I will get up and fight on. At the moment I am confused, wounded and despairing, Jesus is with me. I never, ever lose the brokenness. I fight, and sometimes I prevail, but more and more of my screwed up, messed up life erupts. Each battle has the potential to be the last, but because I belong to one whose resurrection guarantees that I will arrive safely home in a new body and a new creation, I miraculously, amazingly, find myself continuing to believe, continuing to move forward, till Jesus picks us up and takes us home.
So as we remember the death and resurrection of Christ this week, lets take some time to recall that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, was raised to defeat the grave and the powers that killed Him, and that He is walking with us still despite our weakness.

The always controversial Steve Taylor released a song in the early 90's that expressed these thoughts quite well entitled Jesus is for Losers (one of the commenters on Michael's blog reminded me of this). Here it is for those who haven't heard it:

The lyrics can be found here.

I pray that you all have blessed Easter, and I pray that the reality of the crucifed and risen Savior never ceases to cause us to look on in wonder and be amazed at the God who loves us more than we can imagine.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

God doesn't want to use you...

I posted this as a note on Facebook a few months ago, so I figured I'd re-post it here:

I know, shocking, right? I must say, recently I've begun doubting the old Evangelical credo of "God wants to use you to fulfill His purpose". I don't think God is a user. I think God values people far too much to just use them. We, on the other hand, do like to use people to fulfill our purposes.

I'm pretty tired of seeing people treated like cogs in some ministry apparatus, or pawns in some chess game. It's like churches only value people for what they can produce. I believe they have bought into a lie from Satan himself. I've seen many great people used and discarded like toilet paper because they were suddenly deemed "unproductive" or "uneffective".

In Henri Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen makes the point that both sons misunderstood the heart of their father. The son that left and came back didn't understand the depth of his father's love, but the older son didn't either. The older son had the mindset of a servant in the household, rather than a son. He didn't understand his father's love, either. He thought he was loved because he did all the right things and worked hard. I think many in Evangelicalism fall into this thinking.

In John 15, Jesus said, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." That's pretty profound if you think about it. Friendship isn't based on what we do for God. God doesn't base our worth or value on the stuff we accomplish in His name. I think this why on the last day, Jesus will say to some, "depart from me, I never knew you." Knowing the heart of the Father is more important than doing stuff for the Father.

As Ben Witherington III says on his blog all the time, think on these things...

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Treasure of the Broken Land

Recent discussions on the Resurrection have brought to mind a song that was written by the late Mark Heard called "Treasure of the Broken Land". Heard wrote the song shortly before his death in 1992, and it appears on his album entitled Satellite Sky. This is one of those songs that causes an almost visceral reaction in me, as I nearly am brought to tears everytime I hear it. Not sad tears, but tears of joy and expectation. I believe the line, "parched earth give up your captive ones" really captures the spirit of what Paul was getting at when he wrote this passage in Romans 8:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

That which is dead will be made new. We as Christians have tasted the firstfruits of the resurrection, but we are waiting for it to fully be revealed. To this we say, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

The video:

I see you now and then in dreams
Your voice sounds just like it used to
I know you better than I knew you then
All I can say is I love you

I thought our days were commonplace
Thought they would number in millions
Now there's only the aftertaste
Of circumstance that can't pass this way again

Treasure of the broken land
Parched earth, give up your captive ones
Waiting wind of Gabriel
Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I saw the city at its tortured worst
And you were outside the walls there
You were relieved of a lifelong thirst
I was dry at the fountain

I knew that you could see my shame
But you were eyeless and sparing
I awoke when you called my name
I felt the curtain tearing

Treasure of the broken land
Parched earth give up your captive ones
Waiting wind of Gabriel
Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I can melt the clock hands down
But only in my memory
Nobody gets the second chance to be the friend they meant to be

I see you now and then in dreams
Your voice sounds just like it used to
I believe I will hear it again
God how I love you

Treasure of the broken land
Parched earth give up your captive ones
Waiting wind of Gabriel
Blow soon upon the hollow bones

A streamed version of the song by Steve Taylor's band, Chagall Guevera is available here.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lay Down Your Weapons

I couldn't begin to count how many times it's happened. I've been discussing a certain issue with someone, and eventually to prove his point, the phrase "well this is what the Bible says" comes up - usually followed by a long, poorly edited, copied and pasted passage from In the person's mind this passage is the end of the argument, the last hurrah, the final amen. It is the trump card of debate, and the checkmate of discussion. The howitzer of the Bible has been pointed squarely at me, and I am a casualty of theological disagreement.

I've often wondered where the practice of referring to the Bible as a weapon came from. I remember in Children's Church when we have "sword drills". The teacher would open her Bible, pick a verse at random, and the student who found the verse in the least amount of time won. Not to boast or anything, but I remember winning more than my fair share of these battles. Perhaps growing up in a pastor's house where I was surrounded by Bibles had given me some sort of innate ability to thumb through the pages of Scripture quickly...

I also remember sitting in the audience at youth events listening to speakers tell us how to "use our Bibles to push back the forces of darkness". I remember hearing that one way or another our public schools were being invaded by evolutionists, homosexuals, or perhaps worst of all, the secular humanists. It was our job as Christian teens to stand up against these people, and use the weapons at our disposal to do Christ's work. After all, Satan has already taken too much ground. Generally, I would leave these events pretty hyped up, at least for two or three days. Then it seemed that fighting Satan's minions took a back seat to math homework, English papers, or, let's face it, doing nothing (I wasn't that big of a nerd...).

In college, things were different, but yet they were the same. I quickly got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, and I remember attending one of their cleverly-titled "Cross Training" events. At these events we would go through various Crusade literature (including the 4 Spiritual Laws booklet, of course), and learn how to contend for our faith and give watertight answers for the skeptics we would inevitably meet. Again, Scripture was presented as a tool at best and as a weapon at worst. It seemed that purpose of knowing Scripture verses was to blow away our ideological opponents. We were the Christian Dirty Harrys on campus, just itching to meet an atheist and have him "make our day".

Towards the end of my college career (such an odd term, as so little of college falls into the category of work), I started thinking about how ineffective these training sessions and booklets seemed to be. I wondered why no one seemed to be interested debating with me about the existence of God, and even less about why homosexuality is wrong. Heck, it seemed most people were content to let me believe whatever I wanted to as long as I left them alone. I wondered why Christians told me that a state university would be such a hostile environment to my faith, when in reality it seemed like most professors saw faith as a good thing. I wondered what was the point of all my "weapons training"? What if in the midst of trying to become a better fighter for the faith, I had forgotten to let the Word mold me and change me? What if in trying to win arguments, I had forgotten that people really need a friend they can trust and talk to, rather than a watertight argument?

So that brings me to where I am now. I almost physically cringe when I hear Christians use the phrase "the Bible says" anymore. Just the other week I heard someone advertising a class that would teach Christians "how to use the BIble". I am tired of using Scripture as weapon to beat people with. I am tired of making myself greater than Scripture. I believe that if you think of Scripture as a tool or weapon, it inevitable places you in a position that is greater than Scripture. The person who is holding a weapon is the one in charge of the weapon. The person who wielding a tool is directing that tool. I believe this almost a complete 180 from the way we are to approach Scripture. I believe we need to submit to it. It molds us and shapes us, and it directs us on how we are to live. When we start talking about "using" Scripture, I believe it's a dangerous endeavor.

Now I know I might come off as cynical here, but I really am not. I do believe that everyone I encountered had the best of intentions. I think they believed they were just being faithful to the Christian faith they had receieved. I'm sure many of them would point to 2 TImothy 3:16 to justify their actions.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
After all, that verse specifically mentions Scripture in the context of training and correcting. It certainly seems that Scripture is being used as a tool in that context. However, if we take a look at that whole passage, I think the picture becomes a little different.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So it seems that Paul is not just telling Timothy to continue to learn Scripture to win theological arguments and to convince pagans how wrong they were. No, Paul is telling Timothy that he needs to lean on Scripture to train him, to equip him for service. It's not that Paul is reminding Timothy to memorize Scripture to fight back the heathen philosophies of Rome, as much as he is reminding that Scripture is his source of life. It's the thing that keeps him going. Just as God breathed in Adam, He breathed into the Scriptures. When we read them and let them mold us, we are partaking in the life that God has for us.

So, that is why I have chosen to lay down my weapons. I have decided that I will try and let Scripture mold me before I try to make change other's behavior. I will try to submit my own will to the Bible before I try to use it to break other's wills. I will ask forgiveness of those who I have been casualties in the wars where Scripture has been used as weapon, and I will do my best to stand beside those on the receiving end of the blows.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 17, 2008


It's kind of rare that I find something in the "Christian" music market that I can recommend to people, but one exception throughout the years has been Justin McRoberts. I don't even know if it's completely accurate to say he's part of the Christian market, since he releases all of his music independently. But He is a Christian, and he still writes a lot of his songs with a Christian audience in mind.

McRobert's new album is entitled Deconstruction, and though the word has gotten a lot press recently, I find the lyrics to be quite poignant and challenging. I find that God has gifted certain people to express things I would like to say better than I possibly could.
© Justin McRoberts 2008 Five Foot Six and a Half Music (ASCAP)

I am comfortable with deconstruction
I am comfortable with doubt
It’s the assurance that I’m right about the mystery
The assurance that you’re wrong that I can do without

So everything I knew about you
Everything I thought I knew
I’d tear it down and I would leave it all in pieces
If finally what it means is that I’m left with only you

They say it’s not about religion
But then they tell you how to think
They say it’s all about the way you understand it
Then they tell you what it means that you’ve experienced these things

They say it’s not about performance
They say it’s all about the heart
But every critic with his pen or his computer
Talks about effectiveness and not about the art

If you'd like to hear the song, it should come up on the embedded player on McRobert's website. I highly recommend that you check him out if you haven't before.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Book Review - A Case for Amillennialism

Over the Christmas break, I took some time to finish A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger. The subject of eschatology is brought up here quite frequently, so I felt like it would be suitable to post a review of this book here.

As the title suggests, the book is a straightforward explanation of the Amillenniallist view of eschatology. The book comes in at just under 250 pages, and Riddlebarger's fluid no-nonsense writing style makes for a relatively quick read. If you aren't familiar with the Biblical passages that are referenced, it would be a good idea to have your Bible nearby for quick reference.

First, a little detail about the author. Dr. Riddlebarger is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. He is also a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, which is broadcast weekly on more than fifty radio stations. The rest of his bio can be found here on his blog. One thing I find most interesting is that he is firmly in the Reformed camp, and he is one of the few voices I have heard speak out against the Dispensationalist theology that seems to have gotten the most press recently.

I will not spend the time here to describe all the different views on eschatology, as I think this Wiki page does a fair job of describing the basics.

According to Riddlebarger:

Amillenniallists hold that the promises made to Israel, David, and Abraham in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus Christ and his church during this present age. The millennium is the period of time between the two advents of our Lord with the thousand years of Revelation 20 being symbolic of the entire interadvental age. At the first advent of Jesus Christ, Satan was bound by Christ's victory over him at Calvary and the empty tomb. The effects of his victory continued because of the presence of the kingdom of God via the preaching of the gospel and as evidenced by Jesus' miracles. Through the spread of the gospel, Satan is no longer free to deceive the nations. Christ is presently reigning in heaven during the entire period between Christ's first and second coming. At the end of the millenial age, Satan is released, a great apostasy breaks out, the general resurrection occurs, Jesus Christ returns in final judgment for all people, and he establishes a new heaven and earth.

pp. 31-32

Even if you don't have a background in Biblical eschatology, Dr. Riddlebarger makes it easy for all readers to come to a point of understanding. He systematically goes through the Prophets, the Olivet Discourse, and of course, the Revelation. The book is well footnoted throughout (the chapter on Revelation 20 has 100 notes alone), and he is a careful researcher. At every point, Dr. Riddlebarger dismantles potential arguments against his point, and he does so convincingly.

Throughout the book, Dr. Riddlebarger makes the point that the Biblical authors consistenly wrote with a "two-age" model in mind - "This Age", and the "Age to Come". Basically, when Christ came the first time, it was the beginning of "The Age to Come". We are stil living in the period when "The Age to Come" is here in some sense, but yet we still await final consummation when Christ returns and Heaven, Earth, and all Creation are restored. This tension is paralled by Jesus' now but not-yet descriptions of the Kingdom of God. When viewed through this lens, in my opinion, Biblical prophecy becomes much clearer. The Scriptures become unified in a way that I didn't see earlier.

My background in the End Times puzzle is rooted in the Pre-Mill/Dispensational camp. I grew up with the charts and graphs on flannelgraphs, and we expected to be raptured hopefully before the Tribulation. Through the years, I've come to question that view, but I've been unsure as to where to start. I feel that this book not only helped me on this journey, but it has given me tools to help me further down the road.

I could go into a lot more detail about the book, but for the sake of space I will not here. I will answer any questions to the best of my ability, but I would really recommend this book to anyone who is confused or wants to learn more about Biblical eschatology.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 12, 2007

Nerds Strike Back

That someone took the time to do this is either extremely sad or just awesome.