Friday, September 20, 2013

The Brilliance - Oh Gracious Light

I couldn't find the lyrics to The Brilliance's song "Oh Gracious Light," based loosely off one of the oldest Church hymns outside of the bible, if not the oldest, "Phos Hilaron" - so here they are:

O Gracious Light, so pure and bright
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
That by Your brightness we may know the light

Incarnate Word, grant that the light
Deep enkindled in our hearts
May shine forth and give us divine life

Dayspring of Life, true Light from light
Pour into every broken heart
Peace and virtue binded by the light

O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed
We sing Thy praises in our hearts
God of heaven, Giver of all life

Bring Your peace, hope, and love
Bring Your peace, Gracious One

O Gracious Light, so pure and bright
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
That by Your brightness we may know the light

In case any one wants the chords as well:

Verse chords
G                       C   G/B          Am   
O Gracious Light, so pure and bright
G              C            G/B    Am      G
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
        D                            Am                       G
That by Your brightness we may know the light

Chorus chords
                    C        G/B           Am
Bring Your peace, hope, and love               
                    C        G/B           Am        D    
Bring Your peace, Gracious One

Interlude: G    D     Em  C      G/B  Am


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stop believing in God

I have been noticing more and more this week that my friends are talking about "believing in God." Usually I think this discussion is a great thing, but lately I have been wondering if it is actually good at all.

Somewhere, in the mix of all the science and philosophy, enlightenment and post-modernism, "faith" has been merged with "belief." And, to be fair, I am sure belief is a part of faith somehow. But where the sacred scriptures talk about "faith in God" they rarely mean "belief in God." My sense is that the Bible spends little to no time at all talking about belief in God. And since we have a desire to talk about religion in dichotomies, theists vs. atheists, I feel that we are missing some key aspects about faith.

The simplest possible meaning for faith is trust.

Let that sink in.... .... .... ... can you already feel it? "I believe in God" is radically different than "I trust God." Isn't it? 

But this is where the rubber meets the road. Trust is where love happens. It is where relationship is. This is where our hopes, needs, desires, joys are met. We do God and our selves a disservice if we reduce the whole matter to a truth or opinion to be affirmed or "believed in." The God I know, the God who took on the flesh of humanity in the form of Christ and now dwells within our hearts as the Holy Spirit, does not need nor want us to "believe" but to have "faith." In fact, belief alone may actually hurt us more than help.

Look at it this way: do you believe in your mom or do you have faith in her? Of course she exists. You exist because she exists. But her faithfulness is another question entirely. Does she come through for you? Is she good to you? Does she love you? Is she reliable? Is she worthy of trust? These are the questions of faithfulness.

More so, belief does not require me to know you or even your mom. I can deduce the truth of her existence by the fact of your existence. But faith in your mom requires something altogether different - it requires a relationship and action. It is in knowing her and relying on her that I can come to trust her. So it with the Kingdom of God.

The greatest problem with believing in God is that belief alone allows us to objectify God. Belief allows us to make God into whatever we want whenever we want it. Scripture calls this idolatry. What is belief but a system of power and authority? When we decide to believe or not believe we are ultimately giving ourselves the power to recognize or not. But when we have faith/trust, we put ourselves in a position of vulnerability and weakness. It is in being vulnerable that we have genuine community and are nearest to the heart of God in Christ.

So let's reframe the conversation. No more "believing in" Jesus. That has got a lot of people going nowhere fast. Faith moves us. It shapes us. It defines us. It isn't just a characteristic we add on to our lives, but it transforms us. Faith makes waves in our lives. It causes us to act.

In teaching Christians about the deficiencies of belief alone, the apostle James says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder" (James 2).

Here are the questions I am wrestling with as I think through what this all means:
  • What does "Jesus is Lord" mean through the lens of belief? Through the lens of faith?
  • What do positions of violence look like through faith? Why are we violent or support violence? Is it a lack of belief or trust?
  • What does charity look like through faith?
  • What does sacrifice look like?
  • What is happening in my life when I get unjustly angry, frustrated, or upset?
  • What would my daily life look like if I trusted rather than believed?
    • Beliefs need defending, but trusted relationships don't.
    • Would trusting allow me to operate from a more God-centered position or not? 
    • Would my eyes be more open to the Kingdom's abundance or to the world's perceived scarcity?

P.S.  In researching the etymology of "faith" and "belief" I came across a respected biblical scholar's thoughts on the same topic. It may be of some help:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Case for Commandments

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments... They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them" - Jesus (John 14).

It seems to be in vogue these days to want to talk about discipleship in the context of long-term transformation. Basically, the logic presents itself this way: as the Holy Spirit works in our lives over a long period of time, we will be better abled to love/forgive/reach/extend grace to/ give financially to - God and others.

The problem: the above statement is absolutely true. The wholer we become, the holier we can become through the power of the Spirit.

And for that reason we need counseling and small groups and worship and accountability partners and devotionals and prying questions and sermons. We need to grow and become whole. Our capacity at self-deception knows few bounds and our ability to be functionally broken is near limitless. We need to be transformed, to grow, to be whole.

The real problem with the above logic is that we can't afford to wait for our own healing before we interact with and minister to others. This is where the commandment becomes important.

Now, I am well aware that the existing generations have a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving commands and obedience. I know because of my own resistance to the ideas, but, nevertheless, we are presented with a scripture full of commands given to us - the imperfect humans beings we are.

Commandments serve, precisely, to meet us in our brokenness. When we become Christians, the veil is lifted from our hearts and we see Christ. We are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. But all the while during that transformation process, we are still accountable for our actions, our responses, our conduct. We are still called to be like Christ - and by "called" I mean commanded. You see, it is the commandment that trumps our transformation and brokenness. No matter where we are in the process, we are still called to obedience. We are not bound to our transformation for the ability to carry out the commands of Christ. And while our transformation may make it easier to obey, it doesn't do the obeying for us. In the same manner, our broken- and sinfulness doesn't have the last word in obeying an expressed command of God. The command trumps our sinfulness by being grace to us by allowing us, through the power of the Spirit, to move away from brokenness and sinfulness. We do not have to wait for perfection or fear our imperfection to obey the commands - the commands are there to help free us from ourselves.

Secondly, there is little transformation without obedience to the commandments. While it may be true that greater wholeness leads to greater holiness, it is also true that greater obedience to the commandments allows for greater wholeness and holiness. We will progress very little in our discipleship if we wait to follow the commands of God until they are easy for us. Commands become easy by practice and obedience - not necessarily by time or education. One only needs to look at the members of their own congregation. There are some who have been in the Church but a short time and their hearts are soft and open towards others. And then there are some who have been in the Church their whole lives and have hearts of stone. Time does not make us more mature or wise, experience and practice do. Likewise, while theological education is invaluable to any Christian, it does not secure our faithfulness to God. There are many people educated beyond their wildest dreams about scripture, theology, the Church, and God, and, yet, they have no faith to speak of at all.

Thirdly, commandments are in place because those things commanded are hard. If they were easy and only required us to become more mature then it would stand to reason that maturing in the faith should receive more weight. But that isn't the case. Commandments are commanded of things that God wants and we won't do if left to our own devises and ways. They go against our inherent nature. Maturity may produce right action, but it most likely won't - at least not by itself. The mere fact that commandments are commanded should give us pause as to their weightiness and difficulty. Their existence alone speaks contrary to who we were and points quietly to who we should become

Finally, the commandments generally try to get the focus off of our selves and on to God and others. This new logic of giving our personal healing priority places the focus back on ourselves. As big a fan as I am of psychology and counseling, which has helped me immensely and I could not recommend it enough, this new logic seems to be a part of the over-psychologizing of Christian discipleship where the self is the primary concern. We are all drawn to the metaphor of each of us being a cup that is so full of God's love that it spills over to others, but what happens when we aren't feeling all that full? Do we not love? The apostles tell us that love always perseveres - does it? By over-focusing on our selves, our journey, our transformation, and our boundaries, we have fallen into the old traps of sin and brokenness - namely, to focus on the self at the exclusion of others. Moreover, we have missed the one obvious function of the commands, which is to help us focus on our selves less. I am now wondering if the focus on long-term discipleship and transformation has not been the greatest cause of long-term discipleship and transformation. Our ancestors reported great and overwhelming instances of God's grace that helped them overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to our faith, and, yet, we imagine transformation taking decades.

For these reasons, and more, we should be leery of an ethic which over-emphasizes time and prioritizes the individual. Again, we all need individual healing and maturity - which requires time and somewhat of a prioritization of the individual. But it might be more worthwhile to focus on obeying the commandments of Christ. This just may be the greatest pathway to wholeness.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Jesus (Matthew 28).