Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What I would say to Bill Maher…

I’m intrigued by Bill Maher’s occasional rants against Christians. In all fairness, he’s usually targeting religious extremists, but I know from other comments Maher has made about Christianity that he deeply resents the Church. (“Pope Benedict is a Nazi.”) However, as someone has said, “Behind every argument there is a person and behind every person there is a story.”

In my heart I believe that strong arguments against God are rooted in moral issues. They are contrivances to stave off a deeper reality—an action or attitude that we know is wrong, but are determined to continue. Scripture is very clear about that (Ephesians 5:17-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:10,11; Psalms 14.1 [The “fool” here is not an ignoramus. The Hebrew word, nabal, refers to someone who is morally obtuse.]). Simply put, if people "love the truth,“ they may have questions and doubts, but they won’t jettison the faith, or rail against it, as Maher does. If they have a shadow life, cynicism, denial and even humor become convenient ways to deal with the moral tension they feel. Again, I’m not speaking here of those who struggle in their faith, but of those who have seen the truth and have turned their faces away from it.

True seekers will ”work it out“ as C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Dostoevsky, Dorothy Sayers and a host of other thoughtful men and women have done. That doesn’t mean that all their questions are answered, but they learn to live with ambiguity. My wife, Carolyn, is a good example of a very intelligent person who early on struggled with questions of faith and who is still trying to “work it out." She has a many questions she can’t answer, but she lives with mystery and loves God with all her heart.

So, I say—unbelief is a matter of the heart and not the intellect. ”The heart has reasons (for and against the truth) that reason doesn’t have,“ Pascal said.

Now, if I had an opportunity to sit down with Maher, I wouldn’t make morality an issue, but it would keep me from being intimidated by his tirades. I know what the issues are and, more importantly, I know that he knows. I would ask questions and listen without a great deal of comment. I would try to show love by demonstrating a genuine interest in him. I don’t think I would respond with counter–arguments. I would listen and ask questions and then listen some more. I would want to know why he feels the way he does. But primarily I would want to show love, rather than argumentative animosity.

I’ve always been touched by Dostoevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor. Ivan, the unbelieving brother, tells the story of the Inquisitor and his tirade against the Church and its faith. Jesus throughout the Inquisitor’s rant remains absolutely silent until the end. He doesn’t answer with arguments; he leans over and kisses him. ”The kiss glowed in his heart,” Dostoevsky observed. As Ivan finishes his parable, Alyosha, in imitation of Jesus, leans forward and kisses his brother. Ivan tries to shrug off Alyosha’s love but he can’t. His "profound gesture“ (Dostoevsky’s phrase) represents the triumph of love over radical skepticism. There’s no logical argument against it.

Simply put, if I had an opportunity to talk to Bill Maher, I would try to show love for him, for love has the power to melt the hardest heart. Later, in time, when love has ”won the right to be heard,“ as we used to say in Young Life, I might give him a New Testament and ask him to read the Gospels with this simple prayer: "God, if you’re real, I want you to reveal yourself to me,“ for “the Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). If Maher is indeed a seeker of truth, as he claims to be, he will find God in its pages; if not he will not. It’s that simple.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Call to Failure

I had a call to a mission,
          Signed in my heart and sealed,
And I felt my success was certain,
          And the end seemed already revealed;
The sea was without a murmur,
          Unwrinkled its even flow,
And I heard the master commanding,
          And I was constrained to go.

But, out from the peaceful haven,
          There woke a terrible storm,
And the waves around were in chaos,
          And the land appeared without form
And I stretched my hands to the Father
          And cried in a chilling fear-
“Didst not Thou pledge Thy presence!
          And naught but failure is here!”

Then in the midst of the thunder
          There rose a still, small voice,
Clear through the roar of the waters,
          Deep through their deafening noise:
“Have I no calls to failure!
          Have I no blessing for loss!
Must not the way to thy mission
          Lie through the path of thy cross!”

It came as a revelation-
          It was worth the price of the gale
To know that the souls that conquer
          Must at first be the souls that fail-
To know that where strength is baffled
          I have reached the common ground
Where the highest meet with the lowly
          Where the heart of man is found

O door of the heart’s communion
          My Father gave me the key
When he called me out to the ocean,
          And summoned the storm to me;
For the wings of the storm that smote me
          Were the wings of humanity’s breast
As it moved on the face of the waters
          And sighed for an ark of rest

Years have gone by since that sadness
          And many an hour has come
When the storm in the ships of others
          Has signaled me out from home;
Yet I never can see that signal
          But I feel how much I owe
To the day that, when called to failure,
          My steps were constrained to go.

              —George Matheson 

History is unrepeatable, historians say, but it can be re-lived many times in one’s memory. Our successes we like to savor; our failures we’d rather forget. I’m gradually learning, however, “how much I owe to the day that, when called to failure, my steps were constrained to go.”

I’m learning that blunders, mistakes and missed opportunities are means of grace and great blessing if we accept them as part of our call. “Souls that conquer must at first be the souls that fail.” There is no other way.

Through humiliation our “strength is baffled,” we’re disabused of our illusions of grandeur and brought very low. There, we learn “to meet with the lowly.”[1] Our losses enable us “to find the heart of man,” i.e., to get “in touch” with others' feelings. We can empathize with those who have fallen; we can accept and love them as no other can.

But we must let go of regret. “As long as we remain [constrained] by things that we wish had not happened—mistakes we wish we had not made—part of our heart remains isolated, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of us.”[2] Brooding over past disasters intimidates us and turns us away from love; feelings of inadequacy isolate us. We’re afraid to venture ourselves again.

When we accept our failures as simple proof that we’re inadequate in the core of our being, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. We have grace to turn outward to others and to do so with greater compassion, sensitivity, wisdom and understanding. Thus our mistakes are redeemed and put to God’s intended purpose

Failure is not ruinous; we are called to failure and owe much to each day that we fail. The lessons that we learn there, “are worth the price of the gale.”


[1] Matheson is thinking here of Romans 12:16 and Paul’s admonition to “associate with the lowly.”
[2] Henri Nouwen 
Direct Mail for Mac
This email is powered by Direct Mail for Mac. Learn More Report Spam

Saturday, April 6, 2013

         Peter's Prayer and Mine
  Lord, I start so strong
         saying  "Anywhere!"
   And I try to war and to defend you
         with sharpness and steel.

   But Lord, I merely maim and wound;
    You alone can heal.
   And then, bewildered in the mess,
    I start denying, all confused.

   But Lord, that crowing in the night
    has jerked my spirit to attention.

   And now I know—You knew it then—
    I'm weak,
    guilty—just like him.*

   O Lord, compassionate and healing,
    You prayed then.

   And now I turn
    in humble weakness and
     in faith
    to worship You—and then to strengthen them.

   Hallowed by Thy name!

  *The high priest's servant, if read from Peter's point of view;
  Peter,if read from a personal point of view.

  From Luke 22:31-62
  Carolyn Roper

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Losing Cause

“Physical training is of some benefit, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.” —1 Timothy 4:8

The last few decades have seen radically changing notions of physical attractiveness and desirability here in the West. People are now required to be thinner than God intended them to be. 

It may have something to do with the fond, impossible hope that exercise and diet will enable us to live forever, which tells me that our obsession with exercise and weight loss is mostly an effort to stave off death forever. Or, in turn, it may be a consequence of modern/post-modern thought: As our cultural concerns have shifted from a focus on eternal, spiritual realities, matter (the only other reality) has taken over.

Everything now is about the body, a perspective that has produced an obsession with exercise, eating and non-eating that has resulted in an alarming spate of emotional disorders and a large number of men and women that hate their bodies.  The sad reality, however, is that this cultural hang-up over sagging muscles and surplus cellulite is short-lived. It’s one of those changing fads that have characterized human society from the beginning of time, a fashion of this world that is “passing away.” At the next turn the world may be demonizing the thin.

Unfortunately, some elements of the Church have bought into this extreme and dangerous fixation with fitness and thinness. We now hear that physical appearance is a spiritual issue and that thinness, not cleanliness, is the next thing to godliness. In some cases it is godliness. Witness the Christian industry that has developed around that preoccupation: thinning DVDs and tapes that equate weight loss with spiritual gain, dozens of Christian books offering advice on gluttony designed to help the poor self-loathing, overweight Christian recover, books with titles like Slim for Him, and the impossibly absurd, Firm Believer.

(Here’s a gratuitous thought: The problem with weight is that it’s visible, written large (so to speak) on the surface. I can’t think of any other so-called “sin” that’s so obvious. That’s why it’s easy to select out people that struggle with weight and label them unspiritual. We can hide sins of lust, greed, envy, and pride. One wonders what we would look like if our real sins came to the surface.)

As for gluttony, the word glutton (phagos) appears only twice in the NT and both times refers to a charge leveled against Jesus. Good company, I would say. The OT equivalent, zolel, is a word that means, “to be light,” or “worthless” and may not have anything to do with eating. (The best translation would be something like, “wastrel.”) My point is that Bible says little about gluttony, however much we may emphasis it. As far as I know, Pope Gregory the Great was the first to suggest that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. He defined gluttony as eating “too soon, too delicately, too expensively, too greedily and too much. In other words, gluttony is a preoccupation with eating.  The principle sin of gluttony resides in its nature as idolatry: Those who are obsessed with non-eating are as guilty of gluttony as those who live to eat. In the most literal sense, their God is their belly (Philippians 3:19).

I recently read that there’s a mounting body of evidence that the size to which our bodies grow is largely a genetic matter and some people are coded to be overweight, at least by current standards. For some people, a 30-pound weight loss is biologically impossible. Apparently, God puts into us the DNA for our body type and we may be fighting a losing battle (no pun intended) by trying to lose weight and become thinner than he intended us to be.

Here’s my best thought: Forget about it. If you’re doing all you can do to stay healthy—getting a reasonable amount of exercise and using restraint in eating—it’s enough. Make it your preoccupation to pursue God and his righteousness, for “this holds promise for this life and the life to come.” And then give yourself to loving others. Love, not “slim,” is the greatest thing in the world.

In the meantime, may I remind you (tongue in cheek): “The fat belongs to the Lord” (Leviticus 13:16).


Ferns Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the sh...