I Miss Being a Man-Mountain: Gulliver #7

If you are following along in the Summer Read, it would be helpful if you’ve read Chapters I-II of Brobdingnag in Gulliver’s Travels.

Gulliver - 10Another week, and with it another voyage alongside Lemuel Gulliver. Having glanced through the story of Brobdingnag at the footnotes, I’ve noticed one significant difference in this second tale: his time in Brobdingnag seems less about Swift picking on particular English contemporaries, perhaps to spend more time considering Gulliver himself? The footnotes contain definitions and clarifications, but far fewer name references. On the islands of Lilliput and Blefuscu, Gulliver was a magnificent Man-Mountain, observing and analyzing from his elevated perspective. He spoke from a position of dignity, respect, and valor. As such, his opinions carried a certain weight.

Times change.

Now, on the island of Brobdingnag, Gulliver himself is in the position of being quite small. He has quickly become the lesser creature, already compared to a weasel! Of all the details in the opening chapters, I was drawn to Gulliver’s comparison to his own experiences on Lilliput:

“I lamented my own Folly and Wilfulness in attempting a second voyage against the advice of all my friends and relations. In this terrible Agitation of Mind I could not forbear thinking of Lilliput, whose inhabitants looked upon me as the greatest Prodigy that ever appeared in the world: where I was able to draw an Imperial Fleet in my hand, and perform those other actions which will be recorded for ever in the chronicles of that empire, while posterity shall hardly believe them, although attested by millions. I reflected what a mortification it must prove to me to appear as inconsiderable in this nation as one single Lilliputian would be among us. But, this I conceived was to be the least of my misfortunes: for, as human creatures are observed to be more savage and cruel in proportion to their bulk, what could I expect but to be a morsel in the mouth of the first among these enormous barbarians that should happen to seize me?” 

Gulliver recalls with fondness how great it was to be big, significant in the eyes of all who looked upon. It was good to be the Man-Mountain! And now, the tables have turned and Gulliver finds himself at the mercy of these larger creatures. But notice the irony of his own statement! He takes it for granted that human creatures are more savage and cruel in proportion to their bulk! As I understand the narrative, Gulliver considers himself throughout his adventures to be the standard in humanity. In other words, he is normal. Lilliputians are small, Brobdingnagians are large. He remains normal. And I suppose it is possible to maintain that perspective, but it’s hard to avoid the obvious fact that, in the eyes of the Lilliputians, Gulliver would have been the more savage and cruel creature – proportionate with his bulk.

The comparisons continue as he observes the giants. He describes their complexion with a touch of horror, their eyes with a note of humor. He describes the accommodations they provide as being rough and coarse – their finest linens seeming as sackcloth. With every colorful description, Gulliver is further casting light upon his own nature through the eyes of a Lilliputian. At times, he does recognize what he is doing, referring back to his friends on the tiny island. As I read the story, with these details, and observe the lack of contemporary references in footnotes, I can’t help but believe Brobdingnag exists (at least in these early chapters), to provide a commentary on the story we’ve just completed, shedding light on the narrator himself!

 

On Pride and Surrender

Gulliver taps into something very human in these words from the Christian perspective – though I understand this was certainly not Swift’s intention! I couldn’t help but think of the very natural progression in the young Christian. Original sin reveals that pride lies at the core of the human heart. The desire to rule, to be a self-significant Man-Mountain, is rampant and among our most basic realities. For the Christian, the transition from being ruler of my own roost to being a subject in the Kingdom of Christ is humbling, and, if I’m to be honest, troubling. Coming to grips with the effects of depravity, lingering sin, and eternal shortcomings is nothing short of life-altering. Surrender is a painful endeavor, particularly because surrender highlights my inability where I once saw myself as wholly sufficient and the possessor of elevated opinions.

The apostle Paul’s words to the Roman church, though, provide help. Too many Christians believe in free will without giving any consideration to what Martin Luther called the bondage of the will. Yes, we are free creatures and we decide here and there as our little hearts desire. But under the light of Romans 6, it becomes clear that our freedom is in bondage to one master or Another. Apart from Christ, we are slaves to sin. Our free hearts desire sin, and so we pursue sin. In Christ, we are slaves to righteousness. Our free hearts desire righteousness, and so we pursue righteousness. Romans 7 then goes on to describe the internal struggle that results from the lingering nature of sin amidst our pursuit of that which God describes as right and good.

I find Romans 6 & 7 helpful because they remind me that even when I was a Man-Mountain, sovereign in my own eyes, utterly free in my sin, I was not so large. I was responsible, but not sovereign. I was prostrating myself, albeit in ignorance, to a damning master. This truth serves both to humble my heart which is oh-so-prone to pride, and to magnify the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ – Jesus who loved me though I stood as his enemy. Jesus who loved me in order that I might cease to be the Man-Mountain and instead strive to stand among the least in the eternal Kingdom of my Lord.

And so as I consider the matter of surrender to the Lord, I realize that it’s not a matter of choosing surrender over personal sovereignty – crying with the saints rather than laughing with the sinners (sorry, Billy Joel). Rather, it is a matter of humble surrender to a good Master over ignorant surrender to a deadly one.

At times, like our friend Gulliver, I miss being the Man-Mountain. But then I remember that being the Man-Mountain was eternally less than I had believed it to be.

 

 

 

Cru @ Sru : Ask Anything Night (Part 4)

64079-ask-me-anythingYou can visit Pages One, Two, or Three in the series, or just scroll down on the home page.

 

I am graduating soon and am very unsure of what I’m going to do with my life. How do some people find it so easy to put all their stress on God and not on themselves? 

They’re faking. Haha.

If I would spend any considerable amount of time pondering the reality that God can (and often does) bring about unexpected change,I’d curl up in the fetal position in the middle of the road for fear of coming upon a fork in the road or a tunnel. (that’s a metaphor) When I arrived at Grove City College in 1997, I was a pre-med atheist. When I graduated, I was a Christian biz management major. I worked in sales & management with building materials, installing windows & mirrors, laser engraving (which then became the first business I started on my own), considered grad school (I was going to get a PhD to teach business until I was rejected), started a graphic design business, and then answered the call to ministry, which has been the most steady period of my life by far.

All that to say, I had no clue what life was going to look like. But I found an amazing wife along the way, some great friends, started a family, and lived.  We’ve moved our family. I’ve walked away from one job with no other job on the horizon. You just don’t know. But there is a contentment at knowing whose hands are forming the clay (see Post #3 and Philippians 4:13)

Everyone handles stress differently. There is no fast-track to surrender and contentment. I promise, though, that the closer you walk with Jesus, you’ll find peace there… not necessarily calm or quiet, but real peace. Peace is not tied to circumstance, nor is contentment or joy. They are in a glorious, divine, saving Person. Seek first his kingdom! They are cliched and overused statements, but they are true. It will look different for you than it did for me, but the great news is that the object of our affection is consistent, and so the result for both of us will be glory.

 

Is smoking weed a sin? 

I’m sorry to provide a redirect, but I’ve appreciated this article, and so I feel it’s a great share for a perspective on marijuana.

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot

 

Why does God not perform any more of the big miracles he did in the Bible? 

You’ll get two answers here, depending on who you ask. Some would say he still does. Some would say he has stopped. Interesting, isn’t it?

I believe God is still God, unchanging and ever present. As such, I believe he still, at times, does the same things… I would also argue, though, that he does them for the same reasons. In the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is the “main character,” taking center stage through the spread of the gospel, validating the ministry of the early church through repeated acts of power. In other words, as the gospel extended further and further from Jerusalem, the good news was accompanied by testimonial acts of God’s power as a form of validation. These acts were extraordinary and “proved” the gospel to an increasingly hostile world. I’ve spent enough time with missionaries to believe that God still works in power to validate the truth of the gospel as needed. However, salvation comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. In other words, it’s not the “sign” that saves, it’s the gospel. God has given us all that we need to experience the greatest miracle of all.

Reaching back even further to the Old Testament, which in many cases included a different set of miracles, I would present an additional thought. The many acts of deliverance by God in the form of extraordinary manifestations (the Exodus as a huge example) served to reveal God’s character and nature, all the while preparing the world for the ultimate expression of the miraculous – the incarnation. God in flesh, walking the earth in perfection. People could touch and speak to the Creator of the universe in the person of the Son. Amazing! Not a moment, but decades with the God-man. The miracles of the Old Testament prefigured a great many details of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The miracles were shadows, hints at a greater reality, whereas Christ was – and is – the full representation. It’s funny, most think parting the Red Sea was a big deal, but dismiss the unthinkable – that God would not only take on a human nature, but sacrifice it in an act of supreme love. How glorious!

Likewise, in modern terms, the regeneration of a human heart from a state of enmity with God to one of eternal life is a miracle we cannot fully comprehend… yet we ask to see something else, because “seeing is believing.” We’ve been asked to take hold of a spiritual reality – the most concrete truth – without sight. Our definition of miraculous (mine included – there are days I just want to see amazing things!) is short sighted, because we are limited by our five senses. The Scriptures promise that one day faith will be made sight… then the stories of old will seem as miniscule compared to the fully revealed glory of God in the salvation he provided.

 

Why should people believe God is real?

There are folks who dedicate their whole lives to coming at God from a purely rational perspective. The field is called Christian Apologetics. Some are great in this field. Ravi Zacharias is probably the best if you’re into the YouTube. However, one thing cannot be underestimated, and that is the biblical reality that apart from Christ, our understanding is darkened. Grace awakens in us the capacity to understand things that our sinful hearts are not inclined to acknowledge. I bring this up to say, there is – and until Christ returns there will always be – a critical element of faith to this question.

However, to give an overly simplistic answer in the form of a question and a statement – I would encourage you to give these some thought… If there is a sovereign God who is responsible for creating everything out of nothing, then is it fair to say that he is entitled to establish the rules and judge the outcomes? As an unfortunately combative side thought, but one that speaks into your question, I’ll share this. If Christians are wrong, then they’ve wasted their lives pursuing faith, hope, and love. If the atheist is wrong, they’ve wasted their eternity. Again, harsh, but intended to further raise the idea of consequence. I find the matter of consequence to be a significant motivation to consider the biblical narrative.

 

Are there requirements to get into heaven?

According to Scripture, only perfect righteousness is worthy of heaven. No mere human has ever attained righteousness. Due to our sin nature it is impossible. Christ was born in order to live a perfectly righteous life, which accomplishes two things… first, his perfection enabled him to bear the weight of sin as the perfect sacrifice – sin deserves death… in order for God to be just, death is required. So as Jesus died, he was bearing a penalty that he did not deserve, a feat only possible for one who is without sin. Second, his perfection is then credited to the believer in what is traditionally called the great exchange… Christ takes sin, the believer takes righteousness. With this righteousness in our accounts (so to speak, for there is far more than a mere transaction), we are free to approach God. This imputed (gifted) righteousness, then, satisfies the requirement. This is why salvation, for the Christian, is the gift of God, given by grace (unmerited favor) through faith.

 

 Is there only one God? 

According to the Bible, yes. The doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious… that we have one God, eternally existing as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not three manifestations of one God, or three representations of one big idea of God. Three distinct persons, yet one God. The Father is God, but the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Son is God, but the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but he is not the Father or the Son. The only word to describe this is a mystery, but it is the revealed truth of God’s word. If the Bible is true, then yes – there is only one God.

 

Is believing in God possibly just ignorance for us not knowing where we started from? 

One of the arguments in favor of God, proposed by Anselm, is the Ontological argument. Oversimplified, the argument states that the idea of God is evidence for the existence of God. There is something inherent in the concept of a supreme being that suggests his existence. I believe it unconvincing that man could invent such a being. Moreso, I find it even less convincing in light of the reality that the concept of God has not only be sustained, but increased in time, even if not every expression of deity is in line with the truth. The pursuit of deity is a human norm… far beyond any simple ignorance.

The irony of Scripture is that the word makes clear the fact that our unbelief is a result of not knowing where we started from.

 

 

This was a longer post, but I’m still working through questions! Please keep checking back for additional food for thought!

King Me

(This post is taken from a recent sermon on 1Samuel 8)

 

Having grown up in the US, I’v never lived under the reign of an honest to goodness, earthly king. I’ve never been a subject to a monarch. We choose leaders through an electoral process. And thanks to a culture of 24hr news that not only feels the desperate need to let ANYONE talk about SOMETHING for all 24 of those hours EVERY SINGLE DAY, but also feels the pressure to make the endless drivel sound exciting, our electoral process feels like it is wrapped in useless minutiae to the point that by the time we go to the polls, we’re somehow exhausted and annoyed at having exercised our constitutional rights.

But it’s always nice when the homestretch is in view. (Just think only 8 more months… sigh)

My practical knowledge of monarchy is limited, so in my Monty-Python-esque daydreaming, I kind of wish real-life monarchy would work like the game of checkers… or Draughts, if you embrace the game’s British roots.

Imagine with me, if you will, ancient kingdoms lining a battlefield. Men moving across the battlefield in a series of diagonal maneuvers, jumping OVER the opposing soldiers along the way. As opposing soldiers are leapt OVER, they recognizes the athletic prowess of their opponents and lay down their arms. But one brave man finally reaches the far side of the battlefield, he shouts, at which point one of the previously defeated men climbs on TOP of his shoulders, instituting the monarchy which comes with no particularly special powers other than the ability to move, and continue jumping over men, this time whilst backwards.

THEY say (you know you can trust what they say, because they are they.) that it is more difficult to master the game of checkers than it is to master the game of chess. Who would’ve thought?

This post is a reflection upon our relationship to God as KING. I really do believe it’s hard for us to practically understand what it means to have a sovereign reigning over us, because our cultural context is not exactly comparable. We can chase book smarts, but in our context, we rejected monarchy centuries ago, choosing instead to allow the people hold the power collectively – which has its merits and flaws in a sinful and broken world.

 

 

 

You need to know that it was always God’s revealed plan to provide a king, a sovereign who would reign over the earth with justice and peace. This king would come as a man in fulfillment of a promise. A long time ago, God told Abraham (Genesis 17:6)  that, in addition to blessing all the families of the earth through his family, kings would also come through his line. This promise was often renewed to the Israelites, ultimately leading to a narrower vision of one True king, the blessing for the earth who would sit on the throne forever.

Trouble springs when the people, in sin, try to wrestle the plan out of God’s hands, demanding the right thing for the wrong reason. This story is from Israel’s past. The heart behind it is as old as the garden of Eden, and the implications stretch to the cross of Christ and to you, to us today.

 

 

In 1Samuel 8, the nation of Israel asked God to provide a human king. Until this particular moment in history, the nation had lived under the kingship of God. As needed, in the midst of trouble wrought by their own sinfulness, our good and saving God would raise deliverers, called judges, who would restore freedom from oppression according to the will and the work of the Lord. But the judges were temporary. The day to day affairs of the nation knew YHWH, the God of the Exodus, as sovereign King. Samuel, the man after whom the book is named, served the Lord by leading the chosen people.  Samuel had been good to the people of Israel. He served faithfully as a prophet and judge. The people love Samuel. But his kiddos are rotten. The people fear for the future in a land surrounded by enemies. They fear life under poor leadership. So they ask for a king… it seems reasonable.

And I’ve already told you this was God’s plan. So why all the trouble? Why is it such a big deal that the people are asking for what God has promised them?

Sometimes asking for the right thing is, in fact, the wrong thing, when desired for the wrong reason.

Israel didn’t want God’s king. They wanted a king. They wanted this king to do what kings do. But their heart’s desire was to be just like everyone else. That we may be like all the nations. (1Samuel 8:5, 20)

The heart problem here is that God’s call upon his people is to be holy. Be holy as I, the LORD your God, am holy. To be holy is to be set apart. Consecrated. Different. To be holy unto the Creator of the universe is to stand out as belonging to the One who is distinct from this world in all the best ways. To be holy unto God is to be unlike any nation, any people, by virtue of faith according to his grace. Here the people of God ask God to make them just like everyone else. Plain. Fallen. Broken.

God recognizes the brokenness of their request when he acknowledges that it’s not Samuel that they’ve rejected. In fact, they’ve rejected God himself – because until this time, there was no human king in Israel. Only God occupied the throne. But these people flatly and boldly told their God that he was not enough – he was not what they had in mind.

Even after Samuel tells the people just how selfish and corrupt their king would be, the people will not relent. They iterate their demands for a king. This king would not just pronounce judgment on the people. This king, requested in sin, would be judgment on the people. And from an historical perspective, this was true of the first human king of Israel – a man named Saul. Saul would exhibit very few admirable moments. Through his continual sinfulness, his favor in the eyes of God would disappear almost as quickly as he was anointed. He becomes a picture of everything that happens when we, in our sinfulness, are given the reins of a kingdom.

 

 

If you read the story of Saul, don’t fall into the trap of believing that he is a bad guy and you are somehow better. Saul is we. He is a for real man who lived a for real busted life that stands as a stark reminder of what our fallen nature looks like if given a throne. His sin is our sin. His darkness is our darkness. I know this because the heart of Saul, the heart of the people’s request for a king, was born long before, in the garden, when Adam ate the fruit and told God he thought he’d make a better king.

Think about the familiar sin of the garden. Real life Adam is faced with a choice. Obey God, receive and follow him as the sovereign of his life. Or take the fruit. Disobey. Knock God off the throne and take it by seemingly genuine but more like imaginary force.

The parallels are striking, really. But the heart of the issue is a rejection of God as king. Adam, misguided and self-centered, wanted the throne for himself. He believed the enemy of our soul. The serpent whispered to his willing ears that God was withholding something from humanity… that partaking of the fruit would somehow open a window to our full potential! Wisdom! Knowledge! Lay God aside and claim for yourself the very thing he has promised to be!

Foolishness.

The lie of the enemy and the heart of Adam are alive and well in the people of Israel in 1Samuel 8. Take the reins. Hijack the Lord’s promise, claim it on your terms. By asking you to be holy, God is holding out on you! You’re missing the boat on the good stuff! Kick him to the curb and you’ll find what you’re looking for by being just like everyone else.

When you read the story of Adam, don’t read it like a victim. Don’t read it like you could’ve done any better, like if it weren’t for this chump in the garden I wouldn’t be so broken. The Scriptures are clear, and any honest reflection on the condition of your soul would agree – you’re just as busted as Adam, and you’re just as responsible for the sinful condition of the world. We all are.

 

 

I wish these stories represented the worst of our sinful rejection of God. But there is one worse yet. You see, God did send his king to the earth. He sent his Son. Humanity had the opportunity to meet God in flesh. Jesus Christ came to earth as the eternal son of God, stepping down from glory to visit the world created by his hand.

Jesus walked the earth as the radiance of God’s glory, the perfect representation of God’s being.

Poetic people say the eyes are the window to the soul. For the precious generation who walked the earth with Jesus, they had the opportunity to gaze upon him, to look into the eyes, and thereby the very soul, of God. God remained true to his word. All of the promises. All of the waiting came to a crescendo at the fullness of time, the very moment for which God started the hands of the clock spinning. And now God’s people, the very people who rejected an invisible God in favor of a visible, if broken, king; would have the opportunity to welcome the fullness of God’s promise in the person of his Son.

Instead Jesus was met with skepticism, anger, hatred. Many who did draw near did so for selfish reasons, attracted to the novelty of his teaching and the spectacle of the miraculous. But when they were truly challenged by his perfection, most walked away. When he started to face persecution fueled by the religious leaders, many more abandoned him. When authorities arrested him and tried him for claiming to be himself, even those closest to him turned their backs in fear. The Jewish establishment condemned him for claiming to be God. The Roman establishment condemned him for claiming to be a king.

At the height of human sin, the most damning and simultaneously glorious moment in ALL of human history, Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked the crowd a question. (John 19:12-16)

Shall I crucify your king?

The response of the chief priests?

We have no king but Caesar!

In a moment, the full and final rejection of God took place as he stood, in the flesh before them and listened to the people boldly declare that earth’s emperor, the delusional, self-declared deity, was the ruler to whom they would submit. The people declared, as Johan Herman Bavinck so beautifully states, “that they would rather have a king who takes than a God who gives.” And they handed God over to die.

The sinful heart is as old as the garden.

But… there is good news.

Good because, what the chief priests didn’t realize is that, in their moment of rejection, God was also carrying out his plan. Never doubt the brilliance of our God to enact the perfect plan, even in the face of the insurmountable problem of our sinfulness. In the NT book of Acts, Peter declares in the 4th chapter that even this sinful rejection of the people was under the sovereign hand of God. Here is a glimpse of the mystery of God’s sovereignty.

Under the old covenant, the high priest’s job was to perform sacrificial rites, destroying the life of a sacrificial animal, a lamb or a goat, as a substitute on behalf of the people. By offering the sacrifice, the priest would atone for the sins of the people, a picture of reconciliation between a holy God and his rebellious people. The wages of sin is death. Without the spilling of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins. As the chief priests and elders of the people handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be executed, they were filled with sinful hatred. Yet it was in that very act that they were leading the spotless Lamb of God, the sinless Son, to become the eternal atoning sacrifice. The chief priests, blinded by sin, were completely oblivious to the fact they were, on a mysterious level, doing their job. They were setting apart a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind.

Ultimately, Jesus is not only the sacrifice, but also the very real and perfect high priest who willingly laid down HIS OWN life on behalf of the world. But God was at work, in the sinfulness of humanity, carrying out his plan of redemption. That as the blood of Jesus was spilled on the cross, the price was being paid for countless generations of sin. Countless generations of rejection, faithlessness and idolatry, weakness and shame. His blood paid it all.

Felix culpa.

 

 

Three days later, as our Savior was raised to life, overcoming death and delivering the crushing blow to the enemy of our souls, he was making another promise. This time, the promise is that all who grab hold of Jesus by grace through faith would experience a resurrection like his. That one day, God’s promised King, the one who is now in heaven, exalted and reigning, will return to claim his own to be with him, bodily, forever.

 

He is our king.

And we who have received him, have received an inheritance that cannot be shaken. Surrender to him today as king,