Ethics, Self Image, Family, and Foundations

Teaching ethics I am often confronted with the fact that I am a horrible person. This is not to say that I am completely without the traditional virtues. I have a modicum of wisdom (though I’m always amazed when people actually listen to me), some small measure of courage, a fair amount of patience, and a little self-control. However, I am not an excellent leader, nor am I a man of impeachable moral character, or incredible internal strength. I am certainly no sage, though I do always find myself drawn to the Chinese sages (…I suppose that’s pretty obvious by now). I’m not a particularly skillful leader, and all to often I allow exhaustion to impede my ability to live up to my responsibilities. I care about people, but far too often I don’t stop to help when I could. I try to do what’s right, except when it’s too hard and then I’m all too happy not to. I want to be a good person, but when not living up to that standard seems easier, more fun, or more profitable I’m not unlikely to chuck my morals out the window.

Scripture tells us to have a right view of ourselves, but it also tells us to view others as better/higher/more worthy than ourselves. I struggle with the latter. I want to be the best, to be the one who’s admired, chosen, looked up to, lauded… I want to be important, and I’m still struggling with the fact that I am, always will be, and always should be nothing. If I am to allow God to live in me, to work his will through my life, to act through me in the lives of others, then I desperately need to get over myself and step aside. I think that the man who’s funeral I attended yesterday was very good at this. He was good at being nothing, at getting out of the way and letting God work. I find that I am thoroughly not good at this. I am good at getting in God’s way. Forcing him to move me out of the way before he can do anything that he wants done. I am good at causing problems. I wish I was better at living for him.

This afternoon I messaged a friend of mine (actually the mother of my young friend at Church) to ask if I could take her children to a movie sometime. I love her kids, and I have always wanted a family. The older I get, the less likely that seems. Honestly, it might just be a result of some melancholy left over from the funeral yesterday, but at the moment I feel as though it will never happen. Even if I do someday find a wife, the chances that she’ll be young enough to easily have children is unlikely (though Sarah did have Isaac in her 90s). I wanted to cry out to this woman: ‘Let me borrow your family! Just every now and then! Please, help me to feel less crushingly lonely!’ Of course, I didn’t. I have a feeling that this would come across as creepy and desperate. Of course, her children aren’t the answer to my loneliness. That is, in itself, a ridiculous notion. I love both of her children, and I want to spend time with them, but time with them (or with anyone else) is a temporary fix for an emptiness that only God can fill.

And that is my foundation. Whether I have a family or not. Whether I am humble or not. Whether I am a good person or not. Whether I spend time with her kids or not. Regardless of any of this, it is God in which my joy lies. It is him who fills my emptiness. Him who dries my tears. Him who heals my pain. God is , and must be, the foundation of my life because there is nothing else that can serve that purpose. This doesn’t mean that I don’t desire, but in the midst of my desires, in the midst of loneliness, of despair, of emotional turmoil and pain, I can know that tomorrow will be a new day that will bring with it new joys and new treasures. God always provides, and this doesn’t simply mean that he provides for our physical necessities. God’s provision is ever sufficient for the whole being of man. In this too I know that he will provide.

The Hard Road

Church tonight was good. It had me thinking about a lot of different things. I think I might get two or three blog posts out of the thoughts that were running through my head tonight (if I can remember them that is). However, as I sat in church today I thought back to some of the lessons that I’ve learned in my life, a number of them learned through this very church, and many more learned in other ways. My entire life I’ve had to learn things the hard way. I’m a stubborn bastard an awful lot of the time, and it makes everything take that much longer. Sometimes I wonder why God made me this way. Honestly, thinking back, if there was any one thing that I could change about myself, it would be this need to learn things the hard way.

I’d like to say that I learn my lessons better, or that they stick with me longer, but honestly I’m really not sure this is true. There are a few lessons that I’ll never forget (generally the hardest ones), but many that I’ve had to learn multiple times. All in all, I’ve had a lot of lessons that I probably shouldn’t have needed, and this habit of always learning things the hard way has resulted in a lot of pain in my life. Not to say that this pain hasn’t lead to good things, personal growth, etc. However, if there was anything that I could change about myself, it would be this. I would love to be able to learn my lessons the easy way, without the incredible pain that goes with doing everything the hard way. I would thoroughly enjoy being less stubborn, less prideful, and more teachable. It’s something that I’ve been working on for years, and often failing at, and I’m still trying to be less stubborn and more teachable.

Honestly, I’m not really sure that I have much more to say in this post. I started it with every intention of writing something deep and meaningful about learning things the hard way, and how pride causes a lot of pain, which is entirely true. However, there isn’t a whole lot more that needs to be said than that. I’ve made some giant mistakes, and I’ve learned valuable lessons from them, and I always say that I wouldn’t change anything about my life. I understand that God made me the way he did for a reason, and I know that he’s working his will in me. I know that this is something that he is using to make me a better person… still, sometimes I wish he didn’t have to. I wish he had made me… perfect. Actually reading this I realize how ridiculous it sounds. We are all fallen people, all in need of a savior, and all in need of a lot of work towards sanctification. Nonetheless, sometimes I’d like all of this to be a lot easier, and I feel like if God had made me a little bit different it might have been.

Hopes and Fears

Sometimes I’m just afraid. Sometimes, not incredibly often, but sometimes I don’t even know what I’m afraid of. That wasn’t really the case today, but it partially was. I’ve actually had a really good couple of days. I’ve been in a play that ended yesterday, and that was a lot of fun. It’s also kept me very, very busy, but that’s not really a bad thing. However, my good computer is being worked on right now, which is making all of life just a little bit more frustrating. However, back to fear.

Today wasn’t a bad day by any means. A little bit frustrating at times, but certainly not bad. Nonetheless, I found myself afraid almost the entire day. I’m honestly not entirely sure how to explain how I feel right now, but I’m going to try, and hopefully it will make sense. I found myself at church today surrounded by happy families. My church tends to have a lot of kids… we actually have a running calendar of pregnancies… at least 2 or 3 new ones every month… and we aren’t exactly a large church. ┬áNot a small church either, but not a huge one. Needless to say, lots of happy families, and this week was the beginning of vacation bible school, which meant that many more kids running around.

The thing is, I love kids. Some of my favorite people are kids, but today… I’ve been at the place where seeing the things that my heart desired simply hurt. It’s a hurt so deep that you can’t express it. You just stop breathing and wish you could cry. Today didn’t hurt, and I think that’s a good thing. However, there was a feeling… part fear, part grief, part desire… like I said, I’m not sure I know how to put this in words… actually… I do. Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire granted is a tree of life”, and Proverbs 14:30 says “A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness in the bones”.

I didn’t hurt today, but I felt like I was looking at something that my heart yearns for, but will never have. I don’t honestly think that’s true, but that fearful grief weighed on me all day. I prayed about it, I actually had lunch with God today. It was quite nice, but it didn’t make the feeling go away. I’m still trying to give God both my pain and my desire. I’ve been… moderately successful so far. Still, I know that I have a long way to go, and some days are easier than others. This is the thing though, as a friend of mine reminded me tonight, it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be good, and it has been, but it’s not supposed to be easy. I hope that by the end of the summer I’ll have learned this particular lesson and given my pain, my fear, and my hope all to God. I’m afraid that I’ll still have this yearning though. I guess we’ll see in a couple of months.

Wait, what do you mean by ‘the Church’?

I talk a lot about ‘the Church’, and this concept isn’t really always clear. Often by ‘the Church’ what we mean is ‘my church’, or ‘my denomination’, or even just ‘the people I agree with’. Sometimes we use the term ‘church’ to mean the entire body of Christianity, but this raises the question: what makes one a Christian? We could argue that to be Christian is simply a matter of personal identity (i.e. if I think I am a Christian then I am, regardless of my beliefs), and certainly there are many variations of orthodox Christianity (try comparing Baptist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christian practices sometime). There are differences in theological belief, differences in practice, differences in focus, and differences in understanding. There are liberal Christians who don’t believe that Christ is necessary for salvation, and there are conservative Christians that believe that if you don’t wear a tie to church on Sundays you are going to hell. So, how can we talk about ‘the Church’ in any meaningful way?

Scripture, however, does speak of ‘the Church’ as a universal. Well, technically it talks about the body of Christ as a universal, and declares that ‘the Church’ is the body of Christ. However, this brings us back to the question, what do we mean by that? If the body of Christ and the church universal are the same thing, then what does that mean in practice? The clarification offers no actual clarity because it raises all of the same questions. The clarification tells us that we have some scriptural support for speaking of ‘the Church’, but doesn’t actually give any clarification as to what ‘the Church’ is.

We clearly can’t argue that ‘the Church’ includes everyone who calls themselves a Christian, because there are plenty of ‘Christians’ who aren’t actually Christian. I call myself a Red Sox fan, but I don’t think I’ve watched a baseball game in three years. If I do see the Sox playing I’ll root for them, but clearly I’m not a fan. Similarly, there are plenty of people who identify themselves as Christians, but don’t actually engage in any form of Christian practice on a regular basis. Christianity is a religious faith, not a birthright. If I move to China and live there for the next 30 years, I will still be an American citizen by law. However, being born into a Christian family doesn’t make me a Christian, that is a choice that I have to make for myself, just like being a Red Sox fan.

So, can we simply say that ‘the Church’ is made up of everyone who is truly saved? Perhaps. Technically I would argue that this is true, but this then raises the question of what it means to be ‘saved’. Am I saved simply because I was moved at a Church service, went to the front of the church, and repeated some words? I think the majority of theologians would reject this. Salvation is not simply the repetition of words, it is a commitment, a surrender of will and an acceptance of the authority of Christ.

So, bearing this in mind, can we say that ‘the Church’ is made up of those who are truly seeking to follow after Christ? This, I think, is getting closer to the mark. Christians are those who are seeking Christlikeness. Those who have surrendered their lives not to a particular denomination or theological worldview, but to the true and living God and seek to live in communion with him every day. Try reading 1st John sometime and you will find this born out within its chapters. 1st John chapters 1-3 are filled with continuous present verbs (i.e. if you keep doing…whatever or if you make a practice of …this). When I speak of ‘the Church’ I speak of those who are making a true and honest effort to live their lives in communion with God and to portray a similarity to Christ in their attitudes and actions. They don’t even have to be good at it, I think its clear from this blog that I’m not, but that is the goal of their lives.

The body of Christ is made up of his followers, and his followers come in every shape and size. Some are well-to-do church members in good standing, some are tattooed, some are drug addicts struggling to be better, some are lawyers, politicians, missionaries, doctors, beggars, pastors, teachers, and thieves. The key is that they are all trying to live like Christ, even if they fail. Hell, even if they don’t know how, they are trying. Consider Christ’s story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector if you think that some of the above are more ‘worthy’ of being called Christians than others.

Christianity, for all it’s many varieties, holds a body of unchanging core beliefs. The fundamental beliefs (where the term Fundamentalist actually comes from) include the virgin birth, the dual-nature of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the second coming of Christ, and the authority (not inerrancy) of the Scriptures. If you call yourself a Christian and fundamentally disagree with one of these then you might have some thinking to do, or God might just be working in you. He knows that I’ve believed plenty of heresies over the years, but he always brings me back to the truth eventually.

I would add the doctrine of the triune nature of God (i.e. that the father, son, and holy spirit are three persons in one being), the doctrines of personal and natural sin, a belief in Satan and the demonic, a belief that Christ is the only means of salvation, and an understanding of prayer as important (essentially fundamental) doctrines and practices. However, there are relatively few churches that would disagree with any of these, and there are plenty of believers who may not be a part of a local church who do believe in these.

Of course, this brings us to the question of whether a person should be a member of a local church, but I’m going to leave that one for another post.