Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ballroom Dancing and John the Baptist

This past Saturday Vickie and I went as spectators to a ballroom dancing competition in Richmond. This was an amateur competition in which participants were scored according to various levels of experience and proficiency; for example, someone rated as a “Newcomer” was not evaluated by the same criteria as someone competing at a “Gold” level (there is Bronze, Silver, and Gold). Furthermore, someone competing at the Gold level in Waltz may only be competing at a Bronze II level in Rumba.

Participants may compete either as individuals or couples (be patient, we’re getting to John the Baptist). If someone competes as an individual he or she dances with a partner who is usually a dance instructor. Most of the participants competed as individuals with instructors.

One particular instructor from an out-of-town studio caught not only my attention, but the attention of, I dare say, all spectators and participants – he was high energy, animated, with well-articulated movements – he was quite the dancer, no question about it. Whether it was Tango or Cha Cha or Rumba or Waltz or Fox Trot or Swing…he was a master, it was hard for me to take my eyes off of him and his various partners throughout the day. His presence was undeniable.  

On the way home I said to Vickie, “Wasn’t Frank (not his real name) amazing?”

“Well,” my spouse replied, “his job was to showcase the lady, not to draw attention to himself.”

Once again in life my wife saw something I was blind to. In ballroom dancing the gentleman is always to showcase the lady; and in the day’s competition, in which Frank was dancing with ladies who were competing as individuals, he should have especially showcased them and not drawn attention to himself.

John the Baptist’s ministry was to showcase Jesus Christ as God’s Son and the promised Messiah. John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John 3:30. Is that my focus in life, to see Jesus increase and me decrease? Do I strive to showcase Jesus in my life or am I more interested in people focusing on me?

And what about the professing church? Are we attracted to marquee preachers and teachers more than we are attracted to Jesus? Do we talk to each other about Jesus or about the latest and greatest “take” on prophecy, politics, economics, social issues, or best-selling book? Is the Lord Jesus the center of our existence, do our hearts beat for Him, is our greatest joy displaying Him in our lives so that others may know Him?

Our lives are measured not by how much people notice us, but by how we’ve displayed Him; our lives will not be measured by our presence in the lives of others, but by His Presence through us in the lives of others. It is of no consequence whether people remember us; it is of eternal consequence that people know Him. He must increase, but we must decrease.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Economic Identity

A few days ago I was meeting with an account manager from another firm and she said, "My husband does so and so, he doesn't make a lot of money at it but he enjoys it."

I thought, "You don't need to apologize or justify what your husband does. What your husband does should not be measured in terms of money."

But isn't this the way we think and the way our society tends to evaluate people? And how sad that a wife feels societal pressure to justify what her husband does. Economic identity has become a primary identity, not only in society but in the professing church. 

Churches are measured by their wealth and endowment funds, people are measured by their income and possessions, current events are measured not by the church's witness to the world but by the world's economic condition. What happens to us economically is more important than our transformation into the image of Christ, more important than bringing others to know Jesus.

We may talk about suffering for Christ "if the time should ever come", whatever that "time" is, but in the meantime we'll focus our energy on economics and we'll let economics be a primary force in our lives - to the point that it consumes more attention and energy and resources than sharing the Gospel with others and serving others in need. We act as if should the markets collapse that God will be helpless to care for us. Do we consider that for much of the world finding enough food for today is a constant immediate concern?

Measuring our well-being in economic terms is living in a sand castle, it is subject to the ebb and flow of economic forces outside our control; it also substitutes the image of money as our identity for the image of God - in whose image we were created. And if we call ourselves followers of Christ then whatever we have, whether money or possessions or talents or knowledge are not our own but belong to Christ. We are but stewards of God's gifts, if we try to take title to what God has given us, given us to use for His glory and the blessing of others - then we are no longer stewards, we are thieves.

We have been created in the image of God and not in the image of the dollar. Better to have a wife or husband with character and integrity than one with all the money in the world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Puppy Dog Theology

During my commute this morning I heard a radio ad that went something like this:

“XYZ Investment Advisors: smart investment strategy isn’t affected by the headlines.”

The point of the ad is that investment strategy is what it says, strategic. It takes a long view of investments and financial management and is not reactionary; it is not dependent on the “hour’s top stories”. It doesn’t reinvent itself every 24 hours. While a smart financial adviser doesn’t ignore the news; as a rule of business he or she does not allow the hottest news story to dictate long-term planning.

Good theology isn’t affected by the headlines either. In fact, grounded Biblical theology is never affected by the headlines for it is rooted not in the news or economic climate but in the Word of God and in Jesus Christ. However, as a visit to a typical “Christian” bookstore will quickly reveal, much of what passes for Biblical thinking takes its cue from the “hour’s top stories”.

Certain popular “preachers, teachers, and writers” who have been around for a few decades are adept at reinventing and adjusting their messages to the ebb and flow of political, economic, and military events. It’s amazing how they can respond to every crisis by providing a new understanding of what the Bible says about this or that headline.

It reminds me of a puppy chasing its tail, around and around it goes, fascinated by this long thing following it from behind; occasionally the puppy catches the tail – but then what? It soon lets it go and begins the pursuit once again – around and around. Unlike many Christians, however, the puppy eventually outgrows tail chasing.

Puppy theology is also akin to theologically living in an RV; always on the move, never rooted, never grounded; life without foundation. In RV thinking life is not measured by depth, but rather by how many miles the RV travels. RV living cannot plant, cannot water, and cannot harvest.

Jesus taught the difference between building on sand and digging down in the earth to find solid rock upon which to build. The waves of life and current events are ever changing the position of the house on sand; these same waves and events can but beat against the house on the rock and eventually recede. The storm may be great, but the house is stronger.

How is it that in spite of the glorious message of passages such as Daniel Chapter 2 and Revelation Chapters 21 and 22; of Romans Chapter 8 and Ephesians Chapter 1; how is it that in the face of these marvelous passages that we go round and round in circles chasing ourselves rather than being focused on Jesus Christ, rather than embracing His Cross as a way of life, rather than living for the blessing of others?

Grounded Biblical thinking isn’t affected by the headlines, for it is centered on Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Death Anyone?

From the London Daily Telegraph:

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued. 

[You can click here to read the entire article. 

This article appears in the wake of recent accounts of wide-spread abortions in the UK that are solely due to sex selection; people don't want a boy or don't want a girl so they get rid of it. Even though this is contrary to laws/regulations doctors are doing it.

Then there is the news this week that the Netherlands has formed mobile euthanasia teams for home visits; each team is permitted only one termination a week due to the stress terminating lives puts on people. 

 While not defending the "medical ethicists" position on infanticide, their logic is obvious, a logic that many people, both for and against abortion and euthanasia, have seen for generations. The fact that a baby is on the inside or outside of a mother's body is an issue of "place", why should a life be terminated (or not terminated) based on place? Why should being outside a mother's body be a "safe harbor" and inside a mother's body be a potential killing zone? It isn't logical to many people. These medical ethicists are simply holding a mirror up for society to see itself; this may not be their intention, but this is what they are doing. Most of society will choose to see something else when they look in the mirror.

At what point would the ethicists have us treat a baby outside the body as a person? Will there be a panel to tell us? 

Abortions due to the sex of a baby: if the baby were outside the mother's body would that be sex discrimination? Is this insanity? 

And then we have the Netherlands, a nation that suffered under Hitler now leading the way in a culture of death. In all three of these instances the medical profession sheds its historic mantle of protecting and preserving life and becomes a purveyor of death. I wonder if generations from now this time will be looked upon as we look upon the Fascist medical doctors? The difference is that the average German could plead ignorance; we can't.   

Postscript: The bad news is that abortion and euthanasia have touched many people; the Good News is that God in Christ loves us all and that His arms of forgiveness and healing are open to us all. God's love for us is without measure and He deeply desires to heal us and cleanse us and to bring us into an intimate relationship with Himself. Few, if any, of us have not been touched and tainted by the culture of death; if it hasn't been via abortion or euthanasia it's been through another way, perhaps one we're not conscious of. For example: when professing Christians are vitriolic and hateful toward those with whom they disagree they are drinking from the cup of death and often feeding the fires of a death culture, which is also a hate culture. 

Life is best lived through the lens that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; we've all missed God's purpose for us; and that God loves us with all that He is (for how else could God love?) and that through Jesus Christ He has made a Way for us to come into relationship with Himself. 

Let us weep for one another rather than heap vitriol, for we are all blind to one degree or another, and it is only in the light of God that we see light, that we see things (in a measure) as they are.