The Greatest Tragedy

They called him the greatest.

I met him once. He was very involved where I went to Elementary school, and that is where I had the opportunity to challenge “The Greatest” to a fist fight. Continue reading

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The Way (part 2) – The ONE Way? Really?

[This is the second in a series about Jesus’ claims in John 14:6. Click Here to read the series from the beginning]

Jesus said he was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In fact, he then said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

Those claims sound pretty exclusive to me.

And yet, it is so common for Christians to shy away from affirming this teaching of Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that we want to honor Jesus so long as he’s helping others, healing the sick, preaching peace and love, and tearing down _____ [insert your modern, contextualized, political pet peeve here], yet when he teaches something like his own exclusivity we try to explain it away, or—more often—ignore it completely and hope no one calls our bluff.

So today we ask, could Jesus actually mean what he said?

The Way to What?

Jesus said, “I am the Way.” But the way to what? This simple statement is implying two things: there is an end goal in life, and there is ONE way to it. Elsewhere he compares “the way to salvation” as a narrow path to which few will adhere, while the “way to destruction” as a wide and easy path to find. I’m guessing he’s not calling himself the latter.

In actuality, he calls himself the way to the Father. As in, being in the Father’s presence is the goal in life and Jesus is the only way to that goal.

What if there’s no Father?

Every religion has some image of “salvation.” They don’t all say anything about damnation, but they do all say something about salvation. A “higher existence,” if you will. It may be a separation from worldly desires, or a perspective on the world hewn from life experience that allows you to always make the right decision. Reincarnation into higher beings, trying to achieve a goal.

Nirvana.

Paradise.

Heaven.

Let’s not act as if there is no “salvation” in these worldviews. But just because they all paint the picture that we need some sort of deliverance does not make them all “the same.” It doesn’t mean they are all saying “basically the same thing.” What it reveals is that the notion there is something wrong or imperfect with us is a universal notion. It is a truth that—if we would just be honest with ourselves—we cannot escape. It’s part of our very humanity.

This truth also reveals that there is a desire for the perfect, for the correction of our brokenness, for the healing of wounds and for the freedom that comes when insecurity, self-preservation, and fear finally cease.

So the question is where this idea comes from? Where do we get morality, if not from a moral law-giver? Where do we get the idea of perfection if the very essence of the world is imperfect? If that is all that is observable, where have we learned to universally long for its inverse?

See, many world religions will deny God as Christianity understands him. They want to acknowledge God (some higher power, a guiding force, etc), but they don’t want this god to be personal. They don’t want their god to have created everything from nothing.

But a world without a creator God has no purpose, meaning, or basis for morality. A world without a personal, creator God is utterly futile.

The Way to the Father Creator.

The question of the Father implies that there is A CREATOR. Here’s why Jesus is the only way to be in relationship with said creator. One thing that is always true of created things is that they are subject to the will of the creator. When you create something, you have the right to regulate its purpose and use. It’s the reality that our copyright laws aim to recognize and thus, protect. It’s why we have patents. The creator has the right to dictate purpose to the creation.

As such, we owe God obedience to the will for our lives that he has set out. We were made for the purpose He alone dictates, and we are obligated to recognize and respond to that responsibility. When we fail to do this, just like any creator whose invention fails to do what it was supposed to, he has every right to scrap his creation and start all over.

But he doesn’t. Rather than destroy us because of our sin (falling short, or breaking his intention for us), God has given us a means by which we can be reconciled to him. The cost of sin is death, to be sure, but God gave his son to bear the death that we all deserve.

Think you’re pretty good? You don’t sin that much? Think your good deeds ought to outweigh the bad things you do (only once in a while, as we all seem to convince ourselves)? The issue is that even failing once separates us from him. And even if that weren’t true, I know I fall short several times, daily. So I don’t know whose scale we’re measuring on, or which good deeds “count” as more significant to counteract all my selfish deeds and desires, but I’m pretty sure a very strong case can be made for me breaking the relationship and the intention my creator had for me.

AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, I need help. When that happens, I can’t “make it up,” because he already has exclusive rights to my life. Everything is already his. Even my “extra.” I already owe him everything for the very breath in my lungs. Any good I do to “make up for” the bad already belongs to him. It’s not extra credit. It’s just credit. and our account falls short every time when we rely on our own goodness.

This is why every ideological system in the history of the world has some concept of salvation.  We’ve come full circle and completed the cycle. We are broken > We need salvation (or whatever you’d like to call it) > We try to earn it by being good, >but we’re not that good > thus we are “broken” > and we need salvation (or whatever you want to call it).

Jesus breaks the cycle. Jesus says, “It’s not about how good you are.” Jesus says, “Your attempts were never going to be able to pay the penalty.” Jesus says, “I bring grace, where every other system only offers works.”

Jesus brings grace. It’s what is distinctive about Christianity, and it’s why Christianity is the only Way.

It’s why Christians have hope. Because the very law-giver has said, “I will forgive you of your lawlessness.”

No one else offers that.

Don’t miss your chance to take him up on the offer.

The Nazi Gospel

Arbeit Macht Frei.

“Work makes free.” Or perhaps a better English rendering might be, “Work brings freedom.”

This quote was plastered across the front gate of several concentration camps during the reign of the Third Reich and Nazism in World War II Germany. It was forged by prisoners at Auschwitz (ironically not bringing their freedom), and it was on the gate at Dachau, where I recently had opportunity to visit.

ArbeitMachtFrei

“Work makes [you] free.”

I’m no historian, and I’m certainly no expert on World War II, or Nazism. So allow me to vamp a bit while I engage Hitler’s claim, “Arbeit Macht Frei.

Hitler has become the embodiment of evil in our world. He is the poster child, the author and underwriter of perhaps the most evil chapter in recent world history. His crimes against humanity were vast and horrendous. Surely there were MANY points at which one could challenge his worldview. Engage with his insistence that certain people were “subhuman,” or with his socialistic reforms. Argue against his harsh treatment of humans. But consider if perhaps, the root of his depravity was founded on a much more basic level—a level more common mankind than you might have originally thought.

Arbeit Macht Frei.

At the inception of the Concentration camps was a simple idea. There are some in our society that are less. They are broken in their very nature. They are further from God.

But they can be rehabilitated. If they work hard enough, they can be restored to wholeness within society. Did you know that in the earliest days of Dachau (one of the first—and the first of its size—camps established by Hitler), prisoners were often rehabilitated and released? They were trained how to work to maintain their humanity.

This is not a revolutionary idea. It’s not new, and it wasn’t when Hitler rose to power, either. It is the essence of our humanness. We are given revelation of a God who is bigger and greater than anything we can do or even imagine (Romans 1:20). Even without the Bible to guide us, every culture in the history of the world has had some understanding of “God.” It’s what we call “general revelation.” And even without a Bible, we recognize that there is something “wrong” with us (Romans 2:14-15). That’s why every religion has some concept of “salvation.” Every religion in the history of the world depends on Work [to] Make [you] Free.

Arbeit Macht Frei.

At the core of what Hitler believed was that how hard one worked determined his value. How much one accomplished was tied to one’s humanness. Still today, in every religion except Christianity, salvation is the result of Human hard work. Karma is the gross sum of your acts in this life playing out in the next…and the next (Nirvana may take millions of lives to achieve). In Islam, man is on the tip of a sword and at the judgment and God “flicks” you one way or the other, based on your good deeds. Even if you were “mostly good,” Allah may have a “bad day” and condemn you anyway. You just better do your best. In Old Covenant Judaism, everything hinged on rigid obedience to the Law of Moses. In modern American Christendom—and ironically, atheism for that matter—the message can have a tendency toward moralism, being a “good person,” and doing the right thing.

Arbeit Macht Frei.

But true Christianity is different. Christianity is about a God to whom we owe everything. A God we could never pay back for our short-comings because our lives are already his. The Gospel is about a God that saved us “by grace through faith, not by works so that no one can boast.” Trying to be “good enough” is succumbing to “Arbeit Macht Frei” gospel, which is really no gospel it all.

Religion says “works bring freedom.”

Christ says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The bleak end to the story at Dachau is that in short order, prisoners stopped being released. Men, women and children were brought in with the promise that they could work for their salvation, that Work would bring freedom. And all the work they did—the back-breaking, arduous work that was typically overtly and explicitly pointless—only enslaved them further. They were prisoners of their work. Work would never bring freedom, and it was only when the allied troops arrived and showed them grace that the prisoners received freedom.

Arbeit Macht nicht frei; Gnade Macht Frei.

Work does not make you free; Grace makes us free.

Condemning George Zimmerman: Be Careful What You Wish For

I can’t believe I’m doing it. I promised myself I wouldn’t. I should just close my laptop and walk away. Resist the urge. Despite all my best judgment and a true desire to stay above the fray, I just can’t ignore the flood of terrible theology coming from supposed “Christians” in the wake of the George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

There is a LOT of anger out there over a life that ended too early. There is anger about injustice. I will not state my opinion here. What concerns me are the statements like the one Juror B29 made about the case this week:

In fact, there has been a very loud “God’s gonna getcha,” mob on social media and in the court of public opinion. Here are a few more:

God’s. Gonna. Getcha. Now if any Christian is angry about the verdict of this trial, this is the last thing he or she should be saying. It completely misses the point of the gospel. Think about what it is saying. “God is going to punish his sin with eternal Hell (what this argument is truly ordering for Zimmerman).” The problems are too numerous to count, but allow me to try.

First of all, it assumes Zimmerman’s guilt after he was found not guilty.

Second, it wishes eternal punishment on someone, which is exactly  the opposite of the kind of heart that Jesus calls us to have. Wishing someone literally go to Hell is the most hateful thing you could feel. Conversely, John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God.’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Third, despite the Catholic Church’s teaching on the “mortal” or “deadly” sins, there is no biblical evidence that any single sin can separate you from the grace of God. I know the concept of this special class of sins, of which homicide is included, is deeply ingrained in the moral foundation of many people’s hearts. It is part of the Ten Commandments. This poor theology, without biblical backing, stinks of mere moralism that suggests, “as long as I’m a pretty good person and avoid certain sins, I’ll be ok.” Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment.” In Jesus’ book, holding angry grudges against others is just as detestable as having the gall to carry out that grudge to its full logical conclusion.

Fourth, and most importantly, such moralistic views spit in the face of Jesus’ saving work on the cross and it stomps all over the gospel he asked us to spread. It ignores the fact that ALL sin is punishable by death. You don’t have to commit murder to live a life far from God. But let’s not forget that the sentence some are calling upon Zimmerman is the one that we all deserve.

Now let’s imagine

Let’s imagine that George Zimmerman really was guilty of racial profiling and coldblooded murder. Let’s imagine that you have no moral issue with wishing someone an eternity in Hell. Let’s assume that the doctrine of Murder as a deadly sin is accurate (even though not found in Scripture) and that there is a theological and moral basis to this “God’s Gonna Getcha” argument.

EVEN THEN, the gospel response is to “love your enemies.” EVEN IF you were convinced of all those things and you saw George Zimmerman as your enemy, the Christian thing to do is to serve him. To seek him out, to minister to him, to show him the grace that Christ has shown you.

We’ve got to challenge this “God’s Gonna Getcha” theology. It’s just not biblical — but more importantly — I am unspeakably thankful he didn’t “get me” when I lived a life opposed to him.