Zombie Faith

2-2-13, City on a Hill 3, Zombie Faith

 

Our third week of the City on a Hill series continues dissecting the Sermon on the Mount, tackling some increasingly touchy subjects as we keep digging deeper. Our main topic of discussion today was ‘Fulfillment of the Law’ with all the connotations and insinuations it entails. Matthew 5:17-20, I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

In this segment of his message, Jesus is speaking directly to the outwardly religious in the crowd. This is the leading issue that caused such violent back-lash by the religious elite in Jerusalem. Jesus is publicly calling them out for their hypocrisy. Our chosen manner of reception as we read the Bible brings us to a crossroads where we can choose the path of the righteous elite or the path of Jesus. Dean laid this out to us in a way I had not heard before, contrasting prescriptive reading with descriptive reading. A prescription provides a black and white solution to a problem; to get ‘A’ one must do ‘B’. Reading the Bible as a prescription for salvation interprets Jesus’s words as a set of minimum guidelines every individual must stay within. As a result of living life between these lines, you are in right standing with God on your day of judgement. Prescriptive reading leads to a self-righteous world-view. Donald Miller communicated a most excellent description of self-righteousness in a Storyline blog post last week; “When people are self-righteous, they are not getting their sense of righteousness from themselves. They’re getting it from you.” Self-righteous, prescriptively religious people evaluate their self-worth by comparing themselves to everyone else. “At least I’m not living like Bob over there, God must really be happy with me.” or “I’m not as good as Chuck, I need to spend more time at church.” Neither attitudes are spiritually productive, much less attractive to those still searching for their faith.

Descriptive reading converts the external interpretation of Jesus’s teaching as a checklist into an introspective evaluation to better oneself into becoming the person Jesus describes. The clearer the image Jesus paints for us becomes, the more we realize it is a life no human can ever attain. The righteousness God requires is an ultimate impossibility for the created human, at least unobtainable on our own.

Righteousness is not a status determined by what we do, we must also take into account our motives for doing. Your attempts at being kind to strangers is good, but is not righteous without a genuine concern for the person that outweighs your ego-boost from being kind. As we’ll read in the coming weeks; hate (on any level and toward any person), jealousy (again, of anyone or anything), lust (that buzz you get around that guy or girl this culture mis-defines as ‘love’. Put a ring on it or get away), entertaining any of these attitudes is a blemish on our righteousness. God is perfect, requiring everything in his presence to be also perfect. The smallest blemish puts you on the black-list…….unless. Jesus. Jesus is our mediator, standing in our place before God. He accepts all of our bruises and blemishes so that we are accepted into God’s kingdom as sons and daughters. Jesus is the wall of righteous we pass through, coming out clean on the other side.

My inspiration for today’s drawing is actually a painting concept I tossed around more than a year ago. Self-righteous people, like the Pharisee leaders Jesus’s word convicted, look normal (at the least) on the outside, but are rotting at their core. They work to hide their sin by preaching (hollering) against the very things they do behind closed doors. Tying that person in with the Tinkerbell salvation experience from last week’s post and the resulting image is of a spiritual zombie. Where a “real” zombie walks the earth with an insatiable appetite for brains, spiritual zombies hunger for minds, yours and mine. The more minds they can add to their conversion record, the more righteous they become. Their goal is strictly numbers, once they take a bite of your mind, you are counted as their spiritual property and the responsibility to live up to their standards is yours to fail.

Spiritual zombies are ingrained with a dogma that they must prove their own righteousness by disproving yours. They are quick to point out faults, boisterously preach the “right” ways to live and worship, then quickly disappear when their true state of equal broken-ness appears. The first appendage to decay on these zombies are their ears. They recoil and strike at the first hint of questioning or disagreement, refusing to hear any argument that does not echo their own position. Real zombies act on hunger instinct alone, travelling in herds to the next source of brains. Spiritual zombies lack the ability to think for themselves as long as their zombie-ism persists. As time progresses, lack of communication and stunted growth leads to cannibalism. When no “unrighteous” people are within striking distance, the self-righteous minds must turn to consuming each other, competing for the title of most-righteous.

But there is hope. Jesus, through his life and sacrifice, changed the barrier of the law from a wall in which we face-plant into a membrane we can freely permeate and come through cured. Recognizing the righteous person Jesus describes as our baseline model is himself, a level we can never obtain without his covering, righteousness becomes an lifestyle to live because of, not one to live for. When we live because of the righteous status Jesus has already raised us to, our hands are ready to serve, our eyes look for opportunities, and our ears are open to listen.

A figure has collapsed on the right of the drawing, as zombie that has been cured by Jesus’s righteous membrane. He lays out his hands, submitting to his inadequacy and the guidance of the gospel; his ears having grown back into operable place.

 

He who has an ear, let ’em hear. – best recited by Bob Clyde during a Revelation study in the BSU at ECU

 

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention work? Do you think of sweat and strenuous exercise? Pride may be the inspired emotion in some, pride in their position and their productivity. Others react the opposite, feeling abhorrent toward their place of employment; discouraged by the thought of another business day. God did not intend work  to be something we dread, much less avoid. As we saw last week, God created work when he created man. God placed Adam and Eve in Eden and told them to cultivate the rest of the earth by the garden’s example; he created work as an avenue to worship. The fall changed our perception of working from being a voluntary way to worship God to an inescapable form of punishment.

Men, in particular, walk a fine line between being defined by their work and defining themselves through their work. If you compare the average hours a man spends at work versus quality time spent at home with his family (taking into account time to sleep) in a single work day, his priorities seem vastly disproportionate. For most, however, quitting to devote all your time to being at home with the family is not an option. Even if you left the day job, own your home out-right, and grow or hunt your own food, there’s still work required to survive. Having to work is not where men get in trouble, the problem is being defined by your work. Our identity, as men and women, is not defined by our position, but rather in a person. Once we begin to define ourselves by what we do or how well we produce, we hand over the reigns of our emotional well-being to the one we’re producing for. This only brings disappointment and frustration when the boss who is impressed by your productivity responds by raising the bar a little higher. Happiness at one’s job is determined by a combination of the work environment and apparent value in the job. When intrinsic value is extrinsically dependent, happiness is a volatile subject because it depends on the day. Belonging to Jesus frees the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self-pity. Finding intrinsic value by realizing the One who made you is pleased even when your best efforts fall short attains the freedom to work hard and work well without the yoke of insurmountable expectations. When our work becomes part of our worship, our job becomes a joy. We tend to divide things that are secular from things that are sacred. We forget we are created beings working to please our Creator; everything is sacred!

Ephesians 6:5-9 teaches us the attitude we should adopt to find joy, but keep our priorities straight, in our jobs. The first word in verse 5 is most accurately translated as ‘bondservants’. In the first century, a bondservant was a person who worked for another and was compensated as a result. Sound familiar? Paul goes on to encourage bondservants to work not to be seen or as people-pleasers, but as if their work was directly for Christ. He then changes his  focus to the masters, imploring them to lead fairly, knowing their employees are working for Christ, not for them.

In my life since college, I had to learn a lesson about work that specifically relates to what Christians label their “calling”. God calls people to do certain things and have certain attitudes. Many young Christians believe determining their specific calling in life is a prerequisite to selecting a career, as I was. Believing this way leads to a lot frustration, a constant search for greener pastures, and extended college careers. So much effort goes toward finding our elusive “calling”, we procrastinate ourselves into what we fear most, insignificance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:23 to do what we do well, as if it is for God, no matter what it is we’re doing. Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well. Calling does not equate to career.

Today’s drawing has several levels. The background is a black and white swirl. The description of the relationship between master and bondservant inspired this swirl, the colors never mixing but pushing each other in the circular motion instead. I initially thought of drawing a long, flat road that disappeared into the center of the swirling background. I was not happy with this imagery because most roads carry traffic in both directions. The sign along the road reads, ‘The Way – Keep Following’, encouraging travellers to stay the course despite the road getting rough. That’s when a song from my childhood came to mind, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Eureka! I left the road sign, but changed the asphalt road to a railway; unquestionably a one-way path and much more demanding on the workers who construct it! The railroad track disappears into a shining light that blends the master and bondservant together, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Work well, fearing God more than man.

Gospel Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome – a paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Our study of Paul’s letter to Galatia has shown he wrote to plainly lay out the Gospel of Christ and clear up the muddy theology that had corrupted this church. In chapter 5, Paul is warning these followers that they have let themselves become enslaved by religious legalism and turned to embrace their captor. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap. We can easily allow ourselves to embrace a gospel that takes small tastes of Jesus and twists them into a strict set of rules instead of simply loving others. Like a victim who falls in love with their kidnapper, we can experience a Gospel Stockholm Syndrome, vehemently defending the twisted theology we’ve been taught to accept as truth when faced with the real truth of Jesus’s desire for our hearts.

Today’s drawing visualizes Stockholm Syndrome. A figure falls to one knee to embrace the standing figure made of chains. Chain-linked tentacles slither from the standing figure to wrap around the kneeling figure, entrapping him in his embrace, turning his offer of affection into submission into slavery.

If you have fallen victim to this captivity of your mind, know you can break those chains. Let go of your captor by loving people, starting with yourself. Embrace the freedom offered to you through the Gospel and you will be free.

Those who’ve avoided being tangled in a web of insatiable legalism, it is your responsibility to lead others to freedom by loving them out.

Justified & Adopted

Over the last three weeks we’ve learned how we are justified through our faith in Christ alone. One would think justification is the pinnacle of the Christian faith. Today’s focus tops it.

I have several friends who have either adopted a child or are in the process of adopting. In his book “Outlive Your Life”, Max Lucado quotes the number of the world’s orphans is less than the number of families in America that call themselves Christian. He then poses the question, “Why are there still orphans?” Our culture takes a cynical approach adoption, which then affects our perception of the Gospel.

Do you have any children of your own?

You already have ___ children, why adopt?

These kinds of questions are extremely offensive to adoptive parents and degrading to the child.

Or the family introductions that go something like this: meet my adopted child so-and-so. Teaching the young mind they are lesser than a “real” child because they don’t have your DNA.

One thing I have learned through my friends who’ve adopted is this, biology doesn’t dictate parenthood. When it comes right down to it, we’re all adopted. God entrusts experienced souls (parents) with rookie earth-dwelling souls (children). The transaction occurring through copulation doesn’t make someone more of a parent and an adoption agent won’t make someone any less of a son or daughter. We are all adopted.

The same is true in spiritual anthropology. We are justified through our faith in Christ, but that faith also makes us adopted children of God. For in Christ, you are all sons of God, through faith (Galatians 3:26). We have an open invitation to approach God intimately. We do not have to communicate through a priest, Jesus is our mediator. It does not matter how we look or how we’ve failed, there are no rituals to navigate through to reach God. We are simply free to cry “Abba, Father” and embrace our heavenly dad.

Originally a slave to sin, Jesus justified us through his death and Resurrection. By faith, our Judge passes an innocent verdict despite our failures being sufficient evidence to convict us. He then steps down from the judge’s bench, walks toward the defense table with His eyes affixed on ours, then passionately embraces us as He whispers in our ear “Child. You’re home.”

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:7

A Glimpse Into Hell: Eternal Isolation

keyser-sozeThe greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn’t exist. – Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)

Last week, my drawing addressed the topics of death and judgement. The second week of delving into the afterlife proved equally heavy, focusing on hell’s reality.

 

Hell

Like your position on the afterlife, what you believe about hell is evident in how you live as well. Sadly, a great number of people who believe in heaven and call themselves Christians reject hell being a real place. “Christians” who do not believe in hell’s existence for unbelievers will not speak of their faith with the same tone of gratitude and urgency as those who understand its grave reality. These are the people Craig Groeschel refers to as Christian Atheists, people who claim Christ but live as if he doesn’t exist. I am not saying the only real Christians are those who get up on their soap box and condemn everyone in earshot. I believe many of those people will fall into the “goat” category,  referenced last week. The difference will be clear in how each person lives, one looks out for “the least of these” the other just looks out for themselves.

The same book that opens our minds to the concept of grace and redemption also warns us of justice and condemnation. How can this be? If you believe God is a god of love, how can any loving being let a single person experience hell? This perceived contradiction is what offends many people about the Christian faith, but the issue really boils down to semantics. While God is love, love is not God. God’s character is a perfect harmony of love, justice, wrath, and mercy. So…..God created everything. Why create a hell in the first place? The answer to that question lies in understanding who Satan is.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you think of Satan? A muscular, bright crimson humanoid with a black cape, Satan imagehorns of a goat, carrying a pitch-fork? Do you think of him as hell’s equal to God?

I can’t say what Satan looks like, he manifests himself in many forms throughout the Bible. What I can promise, though he has seniority in hell, his place is not comparable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Leaving the comforts of heaven for the torment of hell was not a “grass is greener” situation gone bad. It was not a promotion, much less a voluntary move. Satan and his band of angels were cast into hell by God as punishment for attempting a coup.

OK, Satan’s not a god in his own right as leader of hell and arrived there for attempting to overthrow God (his own creator). So what? Still doesn’t justify God creating it for all unbelievers, does it? Couldn’t God have just vaporized Satan on the spot, along with the corrupted angels, and that be the end of it? Why the ongoing presence? Mercy.

Lucifer (Satan) craved maximum power, he wanted to be God, he chose to try to take the position he wanted by force. The angels he corrupted chose to follow Satan instead of God. Despite knowing the agony and torment that accompanies being separated from Him, God gave these beings what they wanted; out. God created hell, not as a grand scheme of ultimate torture and punishment to hang over our heads and keep us in line. Hell was created so beings who did not want to be in God’s presence wouldn’t have to be. In that sense, hell is a byproduct of God’s mercy.

God does not force anyone to stay in His presence, doing so would violate a crucial key to being created by a loving God; free will. Every soul has a choice, including you. You can choose to be with God (heaven) or you can choose not to be with God (hell). In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man chose to spend everything he made on himself, living a lavish lifestyle and being lord over his own life. Lazarus was the man he walked past every morning, the man starving on his doorstep (v.19-21). Both men died. Lazarus chose to spend eternity with God, the rich man (by his selfish decisions during life) chose otherwise, eternity in hell (V.22). What we can understand from this passage is that, while in hell, the rich man is able to see Lazarus in heaven (v.23). The rich man begs for mercy from God, asking if Lazarus can offer just a drop of water off the end of his finger to ease the rich man’s thirst. The response he received sends a chill down my spine, “between you and us, a great chasm has been set in place.” (v. 24-25). Realizing the permanence of his situation, the rich man changes his plea. Send Lazarus to my family so he can convince them to change their ways and not wind up like me. (v. 27-28) Finally, he gets it. Life is not about you, it’s about you helping everyone else. His revelation is too late, as Abraham explains, he had his chance and so does his family through the prophets that already told them to embrace God. The options are plainly out on the table, the decision is theirs to make. (v.29-31)

My drawing shows the state of the rich man. Not a state of active torture or perpetual incineration, total isolation. Consider these documented effects of temporary isolation in humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, confusion, irrational anger, delusions, paranoia, “a dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally outside confinement.” This alone is hell enough. But wait, not only is the rich man spending eternity experiencing this, he can see the paradise he rejected.

I used only charcoal on today’s drawing to make the image as dark a possible. The background is completely black, the presence of no color in the light spectrum, the color most children fear at bedtime, the color of complete isolation. The head at the bottom of the page looks up through this blackness, recognizing his lonely environment and looking to the paradise he could have enjoyed. The lightest parts of the drawing are outside the borders of the black space, the whites of the eyes of the figure (symbolizing his self-awareness, and the tear running down his cheek (symbolizing his eternal regret). My hope is you will feel the despair flowing from this face and choose to avoid it in your eternity.

To summarize, God created everything out of love, He then established order by His justice, He keeps that order by His wrath, then created hell out of mercy.

The Ouroboros, on repentance

The purpose of the series ‘How to Wreck Your Life’ was to expose idolatry. Over the last three weeks, we’ve talked about how, if’ we’re not careful, we can take a good thing, elevate it to being an ultimate thing, and turn it into a ‘god’ (little ‘g’) thing. Without correcting our priorities, this god thing eats away at the foundation of our ultimate goal until it is irreparably damaged. We know to make God our ultimate focus, we have seen red flags popping up in the places our life’s focus has become skewed, we’re not proud of our poor prioritizing, but it’s where we’re at; so now what? When we know we’ve idolized some area of our life, good or not, what can we do about it? Repent. Don’t say you’re sorry and promise not to do it again; intentionally change your mindset by making changes to you priorities.

Colossians 3:5-10

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness,which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Will that be the end of it? Unfortunately, not. We have to constantly keep ourselves in check, cycling through having everything in order, something flashing catching our eye and drawing our attention, realizing that shiny thing is not as important as we thought, and repenting by putting everything in order again. Martin Luther nailed this aspect of life in number one of his ninety-five theses; all of life is repentance. Luther understood we are fragile, weak beings that will not maintain a righteous lifestyle even with the best intentions. Life is a constant cycle of trying, succeeding, failing, and repenting.

The Ouroboros

The comparison to life as a cycle in the context of repentance immediately got my neurotransmitters firing like a Fourth of July fireworks finale. My imagination settled on an Ouroboros, an ancient icon of a serpent eating its own tail, consuming itself and regenerating itself simultaneously. A what?! I’m sure many of you wonder. Allow me to explain. The Ouroboros originated in ancient Egypt but its name is Greek, Οὐρά (oura) meaning “tail” and βόρος (boros) meaning “eating”. Referenced in many cultures, the Ouroboros carries a common theme of life, death, and rebirth; the cycle of life. The Christian life follows the same cycle, life is found when we are born in Christ, the physical body dies, then we continue our spiritual life in heaven.

Applying it to the Christian walk, we begin a place where we are close to God, aligning our priorities with his, trusting his direction and ignoring our desires; this is the ‘birth’ stage of the Ouroboros. As life goes on we grow comfortable and confident, without keeping ourselves in check comfortable evolves into entitled and confident into arrogant. We let go of God and latch on to that shiny thing that becomes our god; this is death. The cycle completes when we look up and realize life is not what we thought, we acknowledge our poor choices led us down a path we wish we’d avoided and we re-embrace life as God intends. This is re-birth.

Historically, the Ouroboros is manifested in the form of a snake of a dragon. I chose to create my Ouroboros in the form of a dragon and in the style of a tattoo. I am not familiar with the art of tattoos and don’t necessarily prefer dragons to snakes, so I’m not completely sure why I landed on this design. Julie and I watched “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” last night (an excellent movie if you like a good mystery), I’m sure that has a lot to do with it!