Monday, August 31, 2009

Confession of a Little War

I read a particular book religiously. In fact, I've read it cover to cover, since I was 13, on average, every year. Yes, that makes it about 18 times, give or take a few. [Yes, Danny, over 18 times...jerk. LOL!]

My confession is that it's not the Bible. It's Dune by Frank Herbert. From the first time I read it, Dune has captivated my imagination. A science fiction book that is quite heady, the storyline weaves issues of politics, psychology, ecology, and religion together to form an exciting messianic story.

In the Appendices (yes, I read them each time as well), there is a quotation that struck me last night as I finished up 2009's reading: "Every man is a little war."

From the Islamic concept of the inner struggle or jihad, Herbert's Fremen religion speaks of how each person must continually fight all of the forces within themselves. From our biological impulses to our learned vices to our beliefs and who we choose to be, each of us has a plethora of voices crying out to have us and control us. To be truly human is to win that war, or perhaps to even engage in the struggle.

Jihad has rightly earned a "bad" name as of late; however, when I was in a Philosophy of Religion class at Purdue, I remember learning how Jihad was primarily understood as this inner struggle. I loved the concept as it really resonated with my Christian faith, too. Romans 7:14-25 speaks of this struggle, of our own personal war. 1 Timothy 4:6-10 also speaks of how we need to continually refine our spiritual selves like an athlete or soldier as we face our own struggles.

Understanding that each of us is in our own turmoil, I believe helps us understand each other better...allowing us to offer Grace a bit freer, and to forgive a bit quicker. I know my war...I know my struggles.

Perhaps, seeing each person as a 'little war' helps me offer them the love that God is continually offering this 'little war', named Mark.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Of Justice & Compassion

Perhaps no case has rocked the international judicial world like the recent release of Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103. Sentenced to a life term for the murder of 270 passengers (of which 189 were US Americans), al Megrahi has less than 3 months to live due to terminal cancer.

United States government officials, including FBI director Mueller, Secretary of State Clinton, and President Obama, have condemned the release as a mockery of justice. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill stands by his decision based on "compassion." While skeptical citizens around the world are asking about the "coincidental" oil deals that are forming between the UK and Libya.

For a fuller account read here.

Aside from the politics, aside from oil deals, this case poses a brilliantly challenging question: Where do Justice and Compassion overlap? Where do they diverge?

For the Christian, Grace is a, if not THE, central theme of our faith. How do we reconcile forgiveness and compassion with justice? I have heard Christians arguing many points. Mostly against the release of the bomber. I have truthfully only heard one voice advocating his release: Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

But I wonder, what is Grace if it doesn't apply here? Are there crimes too heinous for Grace? Or, is Grace a state of relationship with God with no real tangibility here on earth...

What I mean is, most people say, "We can forgive him [al Megrahi], but that doesn't mean there aren't consequences. He should stay in jail." Yes, but aren't there consequences to Grace, too? Isn't Grace absolutely and exactly about the business of saying, "You are 100% guilty, and you deserve punishment/shame/ridicule/revenge/death...but I pardon you. You are forgiven."? Do we believe our governments should have Grace?

Unfortunately, I've heard too many comments about revenge: "Responsible for 270 deaths." "Mass murderer." "Killed innocent children coming home for Christmas [the majority of passengers were youth]." "The 270 didn't get to say goodbye to their families before they died."

Grace. Justice. Compassion. Law.

They just don't mix, and in the words of Philip Yancey, the problem of evil is rivaled only by the Scandal of Grace. Grace isn't fair. Perhaps it's not even right. But in the end, we all want it. We all need it. I may never have killed 270 in an airplane, but I've lusted, hated, coveted, lied, cheated, stolen, gossiped, slandered, and idolatrized. If only my sin were as simple and singular as blowing up an airplane.

When I see God face to face in judgement, I, for one, am not going to ask for Justice; rather, I'm praying for Mercy. It seems to me that Mercy is the central theme of the Scriptures. From eye for an eye [a misunderstood law that prevented outlandish revenge murders for menial crimes] to bless those that persecute you, from Moses to Jesus, the Good Book scandalizes our preconceptions of Justice by nullifying it with Grace.

To be honest, I don't know what to think about all this. I've thought about it every day since I first heard...from the time I've woken up to my last waking thought, I've asked myself: "What is Grace?"

Done for Grace, this event looks to be a miraculous outbreak of the Kingdom of God. If done for Oil, this event looks to be an evil injustice of the worst kind..."Justice" bought with blood money (or oil).

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119, which is an acrostic poem, which means that each section begings with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Today, I read from teth...

Psalm 119:65-72 says,
Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Have you ever been "smeared with lies?" I sure have. A few years ago, I had a group of people smearing me with lies quite viciously. It was as humorous as not doing weddings on Purdue football gamedays to using other people's sermons right off line (wouldn't they be better if I did this?) to as serious as having an affair. [btw, none are true...though I have been the Purdue football thing that is!]

I relate with that Psalm: "Their hearts are callous and unfeeling." I remember thinking, "Why?" Why would someone create stories like these? Why would someone make me the focal point of their slander, gossip, and lies? What hurt the most was finding out that some of them came from people I considered friends...

Like the Psalmist, too, I have learned a lot from that experience. I thank God that I didn't stoop to their level even though I wanted to punch one of them in the face...OK, I REALLY wanted to punch one of them in the face!

A practical learning point has been my hatred of celebrity gossip magazines, TV shows, etc. Living in the limelight has perks, but no one deserves to have their lives smeared by lies...People, Us, National Inquirer...all trash.

In the end, God is our judge. I do believe in God's teachings. They are more precious than gold or silver. For no amount of money, power, or prestige could give me the healing and peace that I have now after betrayal like that.

Psalm 119, Teth, is true: God does good to his servants. I have tasted this goodness, and it is sweeter than honey.

My prayer is that all of us might find healing...and forgiveness...

Friday, August 14, 2009

2 Perspectives

#1 I love Radiohead.

#2 I am concerned about global humanitarian issues.

#3 I am an American, which means I am part of the biggest consuming culture in world history.

This video is startling...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things You Don't Say to Your Wife

Thanks to Ryan and Jamie, I have some new video fodder for you. From my experiences, I think what he's singing is true...and funny!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bumper Sticker Theology

I am reading What's So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey, and I'm absolutely loving it. There's a brilliant story about a young, white pastor living in the South during the Civil Rights era. He succintly puts the Gospel in 10 words when challenged by an atheist. "We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway."

The words are powerful, but the story that Yancey shares from it is beyond powerful. It was amazing, and I'll be sharing it it an upcoming sermon series about Grace.

10 Word Gospel...That wasn't bad for 10 words. Here are some fellow bloggers who are trying to capture the Gospel 10 words.

I guess I've always had a problem with what I call "bumper sticker" theology. It's not that I need some erudite, uber-intelligent description of the Gospel. Not at all. In fact, I believe Max Lucado is one of the best theologians of my day, and he has been called "too simple", "shallow", "Gospel-lite."

My problem with bumper sticker theology is that it so often fails to capture the entire Good News of God. Jesus had some AMAZING sound bites: "I cam to seek and to save the lost."; "For God so loved the world..."; "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people."; "I am the way, the truth, and the life...". Yet, with it stands that Jesus kept giving sound bites...There was never ONE that captured it all.

There's no one parable...No one Gospel viewpoint...No one Epistle letter that captures the Gospel. So why do we continue to try to "give the Gospel in 10 words or less."

It seems to me that this is a part of the Western world's sickness of "Now." We want it quick and now, and we don't want it to challenge us too much, so keep it short!!!

So, if you want to see my theology on a bumper sticker on my car...well, I'm going to need a bigger car.