Friday, October 28, 2011

An Irrelevant God?

Is our god relevant?  (Hint: the small "g" is intentional.)

Several of our recent posts have wrestled with the following question in different ways: what is wrong with the church? Of course, there is no single right answer to this question. But I'm increasingly of the opinion that we no longer live in the light of grace, because we have no idea what "grace" really is. By the way, lest you find me self-righteous, I do not absolve myself in this indictment.

To begin with, we cannot truly grasp the amazingness of grace until and unless we understand the enormity and very wretchedness of our sin. And this intense sin awareness also lies beyond our grasp, because we have a massive underappreciation for God's holiness. In so many ways, we worship a different god ... one who is crafted after our own collective image. Any reevaluation of our Christian faith must begin with recapturing a proper fear and awe of its Author and Perfecter.

Fear and awe? Consider Isaiah, who had every human reason to consider his understanding of God's true nature to be quite adequate. After all, he was Israel's foremost prophet ... a veritable holy man on a mission. Yet, this "holy man's" response to an encounter with the "Holy Holy Holy" One seated on His throne was supremely jarring:
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
Isaiah's encounter with God began with a terrifying realization: God is holy, and he was filthy. In short, he was doomed. No other outcome but instant and consuming firey judgment was imaginable when his sin came up before the unfiltered holiness of God. However, God did not mete out His justice on Isaiah, but rather forgave him, and Isaiah's response was unqualified, total obedience: Here I am, send me!

Scripture demonstrates repeatedly that this is the way it must be--true obedience is born of a sincere experience of God's grace. Yet such grace is bereft of meaning absent a true recognition of the enormous stinking corpse that is our sin ... but this sin is just an abstract notion outside the bright white holiness (i.e., majesty and purity) of God. Yet it is this true holiness that has slipped from our collective consciousness.

Indeed, I fear this is not the God we carry to the nations or our neighbors. It is not the God we preach from our pulpits or whose songs we sing. Dare I say it is not the God many of us carry in our hearts? Instead, we have internalized a different god ... one who inspires no fear, no trembing, no awe. The spirit of our age, the god of our choosing ... well, he's nice and all ... in a Mother Theresa sort of way, only better. Really, we're glad he's around and grateful for his kindness. We have a vague appreciation for his overlooking our "mistakes", but we feel little obligation to break out of our comfortable apathy on his account.

Why has the church become increasingly irrelevant? Can it be because we serve and preach an irrelevant god of our own making, rather than the "Holy Holy Holy" God of Scripture? Can it be that any hope of Christian renewal, either personal or corporate, must begin with a genuine "Woe to me" moment?

*Note:  This post originally went up on February 14, 2009, but was accidentally deleted.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tim Tebow: The Missionaries' Kid Gets the Ball

Tim Tebow will start for the Denver Broncos this Sunday. In other news, the Greek economy is tanking, the Presidential election is heating up, and some guy in Libya was killed. Whatever ... did you hear about Tebow?

With as much controversy as Tebow has stirred up in Denver and across the country, you'd think he was either a self-promoting prima donna or an insufferable religious fanatic. Just 23 years old with one NFL win under his belt, he already carries the hopes and dreams of millions of Brocos fans seeking a spark for a bad team. Social commentators have held Tebow up of all that is right and wholesome in America, or have regarded him with suspicion as an evangelical stalking horse. Christian attitudes toward Tebow range from pleasant good will to near idol-worship.

Although he was one of the elite college football players of all time, but most football analysts doubt Tebow's skills will translate to the professional level. Can he develop the accuracy, the patience, and the quick release the pro game demands of its quarterbacks, or will his talents crumble once savvy teams develop a successful counter to his unorthodox style?   Is he a flash in the pan, merely able to briefly spark a bad team and inspire a desperate fan base, or can he be the long-term answer?  Time will tell, but right now Denver coach John Fox, faced with a 1-4 record, an ineffective Kyle Orton under center, and a stadium full "Tebow!" chanting fans, appears to have no choice but to give him the ball. 

Tebow has been a hot button on the social front as well.  His parents were missionaries to the Philippines when Tim was conceived, and were at first urged by their doctor to abort the "tumor" growing in Pam Tebow's womb.  Strongly pro-life, they determined to carry him to term.  Focus on the Family seized on his story to make a 2009 Super Bowl commercial, which generated much smoke and fury from the abortion rights camp, although the commercial itself turned out to be very tame.  His virginity has also become a talking point, provoking admiration both admiration and scoffing across the social spectrum.  Meanwhile, for many evangelicals the unwillingness of NFL talking heads to believe in Tim Tebow demostrates anti-Christian bias

In short, everything about Tim Tebow seems to provoke something.

These wide-ranging perceptions make it easy to forget that Tebow is, after all, still just a young man. Almost everyone who meets or interviews him is struck by his authenticity, leadership, enthusiasm, kindness, and humility. He has the appearance of a man comfortable in his own skin and with his faith, but uncomfortable with praise and unwilling to take the bait when people attempt to make him the issue.  In a word, he appears genuine.

Regardless, I do think this longtime 49ers fan will be quietly rooting for the Broncos this year.  I will refrain from adding to the controversy surrounding him, but I will pray for Tim Tebow ... that he will continue to live out his faith with integrity. 

Oh, and that he will develop a quick release and hit timing routes over the middle of the field. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Say What?

To quote Dave Barry, "I am not making this up." 

The year was 1998, and little Jailer Jr. was 4 years old and quite precocious.  He and his 1-year-old sister, Jailerette, kept Mrs Jailer and I hopping.  In fact, like most young parents, we felt we needed a break from time to time.  Sunday afternoons usually set up nicely that way.

On Sundays we would leave church after morning service, eat a quick bite, and then take a drive while the kids (and often Mrs Jailer) would sleep in the car while I would listen to the radio.  At the time there was a major drama playing out just up the road in in Washington DC, so I would tune in to C-SPAN radio and catch all the Sunday talking heads as they discussed an impending Presidential impeachment.  As political theater it was riveting stuff, though the kids were of course too young to comprehend it.  This was good, since some of the discussion was, shall we say, not appropriate for young ears.

Still, we thought at least Jailer Jr. was old enough to have a grasp of basic civics so he could grow up brilliant and all that, so we prepared little quizzes for him.  One day I asked him if he could name our leaders:
Who's the President of the United States, son?
     "Bill Clinton!"
"Why that's right!  Very good!  Who's the Vice President?"
     "Al Gore!"
"Wow!  That's great!  Let's try something a little harder ... who's the First Lady?"
     "What's a First Lady?"
"You know, the President's wife."
     "Oh.  Monica Lewinsky!"
So ... Mrs Jailer and I decided maybe we should cut back on the C-SPAN for a little while ...

Monday, October 10, 2011

2012 and the Mormon Question

Political analysts generally refer to the late summer as "the silly season", because political reporters tend to fill the dead space when politicians go on vacation with non-stories.  In the era of 24-hour news cycles, however, the silly season really never ends.

As Exhibit A, I present this Associated Press story via the Boston Herald:  "Cain, Bachmann refuse to say whether Romney is a Christian." 

Seriously?  This is what is called "invented news".  How is this relevant to who should be President of the United States in 2012?

Well ...

The fact that orthodox Christians consider Mormonism to be a non-Christian religion is hardly breaking news.  Mormons reject the trinity and embrace a form of polytheism known as henotheism, which is to say they claim to worship one God while accepting that others exist.  They believe that the God they worship was once a man, and that Satan and Jesus were both his children (and were therefore brothers).  In the words of RC Sproul:
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the New Testament does not teach the deity of Christ; rather, they argue it teaches He is the exalted firstborn of all creation. They say He is the first creature made by God, who then is given superior power and authority over the rest of creation. Though Jesus is lifted up in such Christology, it still falls far short of Christian orthodoxy, which confesses the deity of Christ ... The way in which this identity is denied by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cultists is by substituting the indefinite article in the text, rendering it that the Logos [of John 1:1] was “a god.” In order to wrest this interpretation from the text, one must have a prior affirmation of some form of polytheism. Such polytheism is utterly foreign to Judeo-Christian theology, where deity is understood in monotheistic terms. 
In short, the Jesus of Mormonism is fundamentally different from the Jesus worshipped by orthodox Christians, and if you change who He is, you change whom we worship.  Add to this the extrabiblical texts Mormons add to Scripture, and you have what is at the very least a fundamentally different religion.

OK, so Mormons want to be called Christians, and orthodox Christians don't want to oblige.  Again, this is old news.  So why are we talking about this in a political campaign, and can any good come of it?

Frankly, while I'd love to lay it all at the feet of the media, in truth this is happening in large part because we Christians ask for it.  Every four years or so  a significant number of us get suckered into putting our faith in princes, and off we go.  For this year's edition, note the prayer rally sponsored by Governor Perry just one week before he announced his candidacy for President.  I'm sure it was an uplifting event for those who attended, but its plain appearance looked troublingly like that quadrennial grab for the evangelical church's political capital I have come to dread.

It is into this context that Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor, interjected his endorsement of Perry over Romney based upon the "mainstream (Christian) view, that Mormonism is a cult."  Of course, Perry has since had to distance himself from Jeffress, the question is further muddled, and Americans are left to wonder how it came to the point where our politicians are being asked by reporters to weigh in on theology.  Well, because somewhere along the line we decided that pastors should be endorsing political candidates.

What a waste of time.