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Friday, September 24, 2010

The Third Way...Self-Fulfilled Theology.

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

__________________________

If you haven't read the other bits of writing I've attempted to pen on this bottomless subject, it might be good for you to snag some context before taking these isolated sound-bytes and forming an opinion. Contextualization is critical when it comes to exploring theological truth.


If you were looking at this passage even superficially you would notice that the most repeated word/prefix is "over". I think the author is trying to make a point using these words (that we've already established don't exist in the dictionary) to stir up the stew a little bit. We get familiar with our Theological "cow path", and without knowing it, we mindlessly move about walking right past truth on our way to the destination of our self-fulfilled prophecy, or in this case, self-fulfilled theology.


Self-fulfilled theology goes something like this. We are creatures that resist the "unknown". We want to ascertain answers and assemble a belief system so badly that we, unconsciously, bury the hatchet on issues that aren't substantiated with air tight argumentation. This is where "self-fulfilled theology" comes in. Because we need clarity so badly and the security that comes with it, we lock into a belief system and somehow, beautifully I might add, everything in life seems to align with what we already believe. "We see what we believe" rather than "believing what we see". Our personalities affect what belief system makes the most sense unfortunately, because we not only like reality to align with our theology, we love, even more, when it dovetails with our personality type. Our views on politics, relationships, money, humanity, culture, etc. all get strained through our filter getting compared to our impeccable template of truth.


In an effort to not digress, let's return to the word "over". When you over-"anything" you run a much greater risk of "self-fulfilled theology". Moderation and temperance is chucked out the window leading to a stiff dogmatism that refuses to converse with the human spirit or the Holy Spirit. When the cement cures on "grey areas" turning them into "black and white absolutes", I think it is the Holy Spirit who is grieved most deeply, because His Counsel isn't needed anymore and that is why he was sent, "to guide us into all truth" and to be "Our Counselor". We are commanded to "keep in step with Him" and to "commune with Him". This is impossible when you reduce a relationship with God to inflexible knowns instead of seeking his advice on all the areas that seem to require tact and timing along with truth.


Tact and Timing? Yes. Truth doesn't change, but it's application does. You don't always "witness to people on the streets". You also shouldn't say, "I will never participate in street evangelism." You don't alway have to read your Bible in the morning just because the Psalmist said, "I will seek you in the morning..." And you should never say "never" as it relates to "daily devotions". You don't always speak when someone asks you for the truth (aka - Jesus and Pilate), but you must "always" be ready to give an answer when someone asks you of the hope that is within you, but do so with gentleness and respect. (I Peter 3:15-16) Never and always statements are for "fools", especially as it relates to undeniably hazy and murky issues of biblical truth. Again, I believe in the fundamentals and the Bible is crystal clear on what it's crystal clear about leaving no shadow of doubt. But the Bible is also as clear as mud on other issues, and I think for our own good. It keeps us grappling, wrestling, churning and stirring. It makes us consider not just truth, but tact and timing as well.


Well, I was going to talk about something completely different in this post, but I got off the "cow path" and onto a "rabbit trail". Both can be good, both can be bad...it just depends on the day and the hour. Oh, boy here we go again!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Third Way...Why destroy yourself?

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

________________________

"Why destroy yourself?"

"Why die before your time?"


This is the natural consequence of taking things to shocking extremes. Overstating truth to make a point. Overcompensating for the sake of personal security. Overreacting to pain or pleasure, sinhood or sainthood. Overkill, more than not, leads to destruction and death, it's only a matter of time.


I know from personal experience what it's like to destroy yourself with steroidal righteousness. The New Testament calls it self-righteousness, false humility, and self-imposed worship (Colossians). "Don't taste, Don't touch, Don't eat." It goes on to say these things are destined to die with use because they possess no ability to transform, to free. It's moving away from one precipice only to fall backwards off another one.


The inner turmoil that accompanies policing your rightness--your righteousness--leads to self-destruction. Another way of saying it is that you're only "hurting yourself". You become the victim and the villain. Self-sabatoge. It's hard to see it when you're doing this to yourself, but it's sure easy to watch it happening to someone else.


They can't relax. They are always on guard. They struggle to admit mistakes even though they painfully aware of every shortcoming within themselves. They hold themselves to standards that are impossible to achieve. (And so it stands to reason they hold others to fulfill unspoken checklists of holiness as well) They are not forgiving on themselves when they fail. They torture themselves with acts of penance to make up for lost time, or lost opportunities. They beat themselves up over the slightest misstep. Self-flaggelation.


It seems weird, what with all the self-hatred, but it's easy to concurrently feel superior to others around you because you're working hard and they are obviously not. You are "beating your body and making it your slave" and they are "footloose and fancy free". It's easy to falsely think yourself like Jesus saying "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." Which may be true, but what is also be said without being said is this, "They don't know what they are doing...but I do." I'm self-aware, they are clueless. I'm at least trying to be good, they aren't. In this state of mind the abiding thought is this: "I am. They aren't."


So you have an insidious formula for self-destruction. On the one hand you're flogging yourself for any little peccadillo, but you're also congratulating yourself for your behavioral supremacy. Self-grandizing and self-debasing all at the same time. Both better and worse than those around you. Either above or below almost everyone you encounter. It has to be one or the other, because there is no middle ground. There is no "Third Way".


"Why destroy yourself?" Good question. Who would you do this? Who would want to do this?


But we do--all of us. We take this option 9 times out of 10 because it makes us feel like we're earning our keep, paying our dues. I can't always put my finger on why, but I feel a sense of comfort when I know I'm controlling input and outcomes. I don't want anyone's handout. I don't want to feel like someone's pet project. I don't want to be see as a freeloader. I don't want anyone's pity. I don't want anyone's grace. I hate grace. I don't want it and I won't give it.

______________________________

"Why die before your time?" This one needs little elaboration, because we all know this is the inevitable end of a person who chucks caution to the wind and lives on the edge. Sinning like there's no tomorrow, cheating death, feeling invincible. Selfishly following every carnal urge without much thought of consequence. This is the natural destination of myopic mankind, premature death. Immature life leads to premature death, 9 times out of 10. You can't live with a wholesale disregard for the laws of the natural and the supernatural without pay the price. It catches up to you.


It's fun for a season. Or as my parents used to say, "It was fun while it lasted." But when it ends, it crashes down and crushes it's unsuspecting victims. In many ways, they are dead before they actually die. The soul is dying and waiting for the body to catch up.


16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

The older I get, the more I realize that God knows what He's talking about. This stuff isn't in the Bible as filler to make for a big book, a New York Times best seller. It's in there because God is brilliant. He knows what eats our insides out like cancer. He knows the leprous sore that lead to amputation. He warns us because he wants us. He wants us whole.

He who has ears, let him hear.

One of my favorite Jesus quotes. Jesus was cool like that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Third Way...Overrighteous or Overwicked?

Before we move to ground where angels fear to tread, I wanted to start with a verse that has messed with me for some time. It’s a verse that speaks of a concept that I feel is what Jesus called in the Gospels one of the “secrets of the Kingdom”. Jesus spoke of this phrase when he was explaining why he spoke in parables, which is entirely different than why we think he spoke in parables.

We think he told parables to make it easier to understand the gospel, little stories that served to explain hard things, making them clearer. But Jesus’ explanation of why he spoke in these riddles was the exact opposite. He described their purpose quite differently. They were actually spoken to turn people off that were interested in 3 easy steps to God, or 4 happy hops to Heaven. He quoted the prophet Isaiah who said that people were ever hearing but never perceiving, always looking upon but never seeing lest they should turn and be forgiven.

What? Isn’t that what you want--people to turn and be forgiven? Isn’t that the whole point? Well, yes and no. It depends on whether they are turning for the right reason. It hinges on more than just picking a side or choosing an answer on the multiple-choice quiz. This is where Jesus floats the “secrets of the kingdom” phrase for the first time, almost like there are obvious truths that are no-brainers, and then there is this deeper layer of spirituality that won’t be touched by anyone uninterested in grappling with truth in it’s wildest and rawest form. The kind of truth that can’t be absorbed while clipping coupons and watching “Say Yes to the Dress”. This truth is not for the faint of heart. This truth is embedded underneath the elementary and rudimentary thoughts and theologies of man. They are secrets. And they aren’t found in Christianity, they are found in the Kingdom. And the Kingdom is slowly becoming more central to me the longer I’m alive and the further I go in my God-expedition.

I say all this to say that I don’t think God is found in the easy extremes. I think if He is to be found, it will be in the place of tension somewhere in between all the polarities vying for our allegiance. Here is the aforementioned verse that has been a paradox and a detox all in one.

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

I find this verse refreshing for some reason. In years gone by I would have felt confused saying something like “makeup my mind already”. I would imagine this to be something Oprah would say in an effort to unify humanity, playing both sides for the sake of mass appeal. The consummate view of “The View”. I would have called this shallow Christianity, the happy/crappy medium not wanting to offend or be offended. The compromising church complacently sitting in the fat middle of the road refusing to embrace absolute truth. Plurality. Relativism. Rubbish.

But these verses speak of a secret wisdom that few attain. A wisdom that finds a place that values both without dismissing either. “But if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything! This is riding the fence! Fish or cut bait!” All these generational quotes force us to one side or the other making it impossible for wisdom to speak her thoughts. She is gagged in the corner mumbling something about both, but we slap her face and tell her to shut up while we pit the one against the other in an epic war of world views.

It’s funny to me that three words in this text aren’t even words in the dictionary. Overrighteous. Overwise. Overwicked. These words don’t exist in our vocabulary. And there is a reason. We have a hard time comprehending how it could be possible to be overrighteous because God very clearly wants us to be holy as He is holy. We can’t think of how being overwise could lead us to “destroying ourselves”. It is a mystery to us. It’s a secret.

But I think if you could pull back from your theology for a second and watch life as it naturally emerges around you, you would see the forest for the trees. I’m sure you’ve met a person who is “too big for his britches”, “too smart for her own good”. You’ve met a person who thinks they’ve arrived, a veritable “know-it-all”. You’ve encountered a conversation, I’m sure, dripping with guarantees and “sure-things” when you know it’s not that “cut and dry”, “that easy”. Not even close. You’ve tried to reason with someone who isn’t budging, someone who won’t even entertain an idea or a perspective because they’ve “made up their mind” and don’t want to be confused with the facts.

You’ve, no doubt encountered, a zealous believer who, in their righteousness, hose people down anyone they get around with their over-the-top positions on a variety of issues. They don’t ask questions because they are so chuck-full of answers. A person with all the answers doesn’t have time for questions, asking or being asked. They have come to conclusions on everything, and if you have a different conclusion, you are in their crosshairs of their desire for your conversion. All roads lead back to disagreeable territories of varied opinions and preferences. They won’t let it go. They will fight to the death. They have found closure, and you should too. “God is not a God of confusion” they say as they lay out for you the path of clarity that they have embraced. You humor them by letting them monologue about their take on life or the Bible or God, but in your mind you’re thinking “get me out of here”. With a gesture of diplomacy you smile kindly, wish them well, and leave their presence feeling like you have to go and take a shower. It is violating, in my opinion. You’ve been raped by righteousness, so to speak. Which is not righteousness at all.

Overwise, overrighteous people are neither wise nor righteous because they are all too aware of their wisdom and rightness. But the overwicked, folly-filled person is just as polarizing. They live a philosophy of hedonistic humanism. Whatever feels good or right is embraced as gospel truth. Pragmatism guides them. “Having fun” is their litmus test of value. Is it something that will be “fun” or will it be boring. It’s “live and let live” in this extreme world or selfishness. Don’t bother me with truth or boundaries or virtues unless they lead to fun. If they take work or discipline or lead me to have to sacrifice or serve, I’m not interested.

I mean, there’s value in being around a fun and funny person, but this person always crosses the line into something more vain and vulgar. If the overrighteous are over the top, the overwicked are over the line. It’s almost like if life doesn’t have shock value, it isn’t titillating enough. They are, what the Bible calls, “inventing new ways of doing evil”. Why? Because evil doesn’t feel fun unless it’s crossing a new threshold of alarming extremity. It’s a drug.

But the secret is found in verse 18. It is “the third way”, the “peculiar way”, the “quirky way”.


18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.


We’ll talk about this sometime in the near future. Thanks for walking through my messy mind with me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The beginning of a "Third Way" journey...

I'm going to begin a line of logic that is more akin to stirring up a hornet's nest than harvesting the honey that comes from the bees. I think both is vital to the proliferation of truth.

I have been hounded by God, man and my own heart to begin a journey that I honestly don't even know what to call other than a "third way" of seeing that leads to a "third way" of being. I'm tired of being cornered and forced to choose a side on issues that are very clearly not cut and dry. Issues in the sacred text that are almost purposefully places polarities and disparities to keep us from the pride that results from calling of the expedition, the search, the hunt.

When you call off the dogs spiritually speaking, I've seen a grave danger ensue. People who decide on an area of theology or an approach on theology for the sake of their own need for certainty all the while dismissing the clear teaching in the Bible that seems to contradict their no-nonsence belief system do so to their own peril, in my opinion.

I wonder if God wrote His Word like he did to keep us in the dark where we need to be in the dark and in the light where we need to be in the light. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up"..."The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought."...these verses along with the beginning of 1 Cor. 13 show us that things like "powerful speaking", "mountain-moving faith", "fathoming of all wisdom", "giving money with selfless philanthropy", and even "surrendering your body to the flames of martyrdom"...all mean nothing without Love. We tend to attach to these things as indicators of our own "rightness" or own "confidence" or own "spiritual maturity"...but we need to be careful. To continue to stay on the path of discernment.
Maybe discernment is more important than locking into belief system. Haven't you beleived something before with unwavering passion later to be proven wrong. This should cause us to pause in our dogmatism and religious rhetoric that smacks of "perfect understanding".

Again, I'm not talking about things that are clear and fundamental. I'm talking about very obvious contradictions that have filled the church for multiple generations leading to splits at best, the holy wars of bloodshed at worst.

I want to know the truth...that is where I'm setting my sails. The truth...wherever it may lead.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A few of my favorite things...

These are a few of my favorite things.... (Sound of Music reference)

1. A cold nose when I've just come in from a cool autumn evening.
2. Riding my scooter into an early morning sunrise just before the sun crests the horizon.
3. A field of freshly cut hay just after it's been raked into fluffy rows.
4. Fireflies dancing about in my backyard just before sundown.
5. The smell of burning leaves wafting across my property.
6. A cup of coffee hitting my mouth awakening my slumbering taste buds.
7. Little sips of pickle juice right from the jar while watching the news.
8. Relieving myself in the yard at night while looking up at the starry skies. (sorry Heidi)
9. The smell of a fresh application of cedar mulch around my shrubbery.
10. Waving at motorcyclists when I pass them on my scooter. (like I'm one of them)
11. Singing inside my helmet.
12. Watching people meander around in the mall.
13. Reading the first chapter of books in Barnes and Noble.
14. Trying to see new things in old things.
15. Doing pushups while watching UFC reruns on Spike. (I feel very manly)
16. Seeing someone cry in that special moment when they are honored by others.
17. Witnessing transformation in someone life caused by the Holy Spirit.
18. Kissing my wife...even better...her kissing me.
19. Seeing my daughters right after they get a haircut. "Daddy, do you like it?"
20. Being given the privilege of pastoring people. I am blessed.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Waking the Dawn...

There are so many amazing things happening.


But you must as the Psalmist says, "Wake the Dawn."


The difference between the dawn waking you and you waking the dawn is the difference between life happening to you and you happening to life.


So many days I think we wake up and "hope for the best". Crossing our fingers, we wish upon a shooting star. This is Disney, not Christianity.


To wake the dawn we must awaken life around us. We must "get their first". We must "proactivate" instead of react. The more we waiting for our "ship to come in" or for our "luck to change" the longer we will dwell in a wilderness of wishful thinking. Wishful thinking has never changed a thing...life gets tabled, conversations are congested with deliberation, and we live in suspension...suspending life, delaying takeoffs...our days become a living layover...neither taking off nor landing. Holding patterns. Gridlock.


But to "wake the dawn" is to beat life to the punch. To inform life as to what will transpire. To live with "priority" which literally means that "prior to something happening, you have already decided what will be." Thus "prior"ity. I will say it again, you don't wait to see what you will do in the event that something occurs, you occur before the event does and tell it what will happen based on prior perspectives, prior objectives. You don't wait for the morning to wake you up, you wake it up. You get a jump start on the day, you are the early bird that gets the worm, the world is your ouster, you are sucking the marrow out of life.


This is where we get the Latin term "Carpe Diem"...Seize the Day. You lay hold of life. Paul even said this in Phil. 3 when he stated "I want to take hold of that for which Christ told hold of me." As a result he said, "So I press on toward the prize of the high calling of Jesus Christ". Earlier he mused, "Forgetting what is behind..." This is a heart that understands the duty of man to seize life before life seizes him.


So I will end as I began. Today is a beautiful day with so many amazing things happening. It is waiting for me to tell it what to do and where to go. If I don't lead this dance, it will take the lead for me. And when that happens. We're tripping all over each other.


I was made to "exercise dominion over life, to subdue it, to care for it, to cultivate it". God stated this clearly in Genesis and when I don't, life doesn't go well at all.


Today I woke the dawn...


and ironically, I feel more awake myself.