Prayers For The Wicked

I’ve been playing a bit of Mass Effect 2.

Okay, that’s a lie–a lot of Mass Effect 2. I am really enjoying it a lot, it really brings back the joy into playing video games where you play one which you connect with immediately. It’s just the right amount of fighting (not too much gore) and open-ended nature of the story line.

I’ve clocked in about 20 hours in the past 3 days or so, which is a lot considering that is probably the amount of video games I have played this whole year combined. The storyline is wonderful, being able to control every action of your player who is going around picking up soldiers to join his team. Going from planet to planet, there is an assembly of diverse creatures that you have to convince to join your team to fight a group that is threatening the existence of the universe as we know it.

One of these is Thane Krios–“a drell assassin, the most skilled in the galaxy. Unlike most assassins, who prefer to snipe their targets from a distance, Thane prefers to get up close and kill his target personally, utilizing a mixture of stealth, firearms, and hand-to-hand combat abilities. Despite his profession, Thane is a deeply spiritual man who prays for success in his missions, and asks for forgiveness after each kill, even going as far as to ignore those in his immediate vicinity until he is finished doing so.” (s)

The spirituality of Thane is what fascinates me. He is an assassin, yet he is deeply spiritual. Meeting him for the first time, he gives an interesting insight into what he does:

Shepard: Can we talk? I came a long way to talk to you.

Thane: One moment, prayers for the wicked must not be forsaken. 

Shepard: She certainly was wicked.

Thane: Not for her. For me.

It is a wise saying that he muses–if we take the vengeance of God within our own hands, do we become the judges, not God? Who then, is the wicked one if we judge with partiality?

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The Cross Is The Perfect Statement

“The cross is the perfect statement both of God’s wrath against sin and of the depth of his love and mercy in the recovery of the damaged creation and its damagers.  God’s mercy, patience, and love must be fully preached in the church.  But they are not credible unless they are presented in tension with God’s infinite power, complete and sovereign control of the universe, holiness, and righteousness.  

And where God’s righteousness is clearly presented, compassionate warnings of his holy anger against sin must be given, and warnings also of the certainty of divine judgment in endless alienation from God which will be unimaginably worse than the literal descriptions of hell.  It is no wonder that the world and the church are not awakened when our leadership is either singing a lullaby concerning these matters or presenting them in a caricature which is so grotesque that it is unbelievable.

The tension between God’s holy righteousness and his compassionate mercy cannot be legitimately resolved by remolding his character into an image of pure benevolence as the church did in the nineteenth century.  There is only one way that this contradiction can be removed: through the cross of Christ which reveals the severity of God’s anger against sin and the depth of his compassion in paying its penalty through the vicarious sacrifice of his Son. 

In systems which resolve this tension by softening the character of God, Christ and his work become an addendum, and spiritual darkness becomes complete because the true God has been abandoned for the worship of a magnified image of human tolerance.” (1)

I think at every moment there is a tendency to rush towards one or the other. The cross is love poured out; the cross is wrath poured out. Binaries fight out in our mind, and we become ingrained on one side of the expanse. We have tried to create a dialogue between the two extremes, but it is impossible. And it is impossible except through what we have known. Then, we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the whole world–great enough to cover the great expanse, and wash our doubts away.

Enough for my haughty heart, enough for my lifeless soul.

Great enough to cover my lack of love, and my lack of righteousness.

Is the cross meaningful if you remove the wrath of God away from it? Is the cross meaningful if you remove the love of God away from it?

(1) (Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics for Spiritual Life, 84-85) the irony is that both those buildings could readily be defined as modernist.

Effecting Effectual Change

“Grace is what taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

These words from the famous hymn Amazing Grace  by John Newton was always a curious one for me. The concept of grace teaching our hearts to fear was one of the concepts that I am not familiar with, and something perhaps uncomfortable to modern Christians today. But I think it a lot along the lines of what needs to be relieved must first be revealed. Only when Jesus opens up our hearts to our sin only then, all the same, Jesus will be the one who calms our fears. Maybe there is a tendency for us today to focus solely on the latter, with our fears relieved today, that we forget how what insecurity we have to begin with. If we are taking away only the symptoms, then perhaps we are not curing the sickness.

I am reminded of a story from a sermon from Charles Spurgeon, that I will just recount through memory because I don’t remember the number among thousands, and the text I recall is quite lengthy. There once was a rich prince who walked through his kingdom for a pleasurable stroll. He passed through town and went through to countryside. Down the mighty river which ran through his kingdom, where he spotted a farmer squatting down by a muddy river. The farmer was slowly and carefully sifting out the dirt from the bucket of water for his flock of sheep to drink from. The prince was much agrieved by this because he led the farmer into his palace located at the top of the river. He pointed out to the young farmer, the cause of his problems: a tree fallen over the mouth of the river, dirtying everything in the river. The farmer was aghast when he realised that he had been cleaning out all the dirt from the water when the more effective way was to remove the tree from dirtying the water.

We may have control over what we see in ourselves, but sin manifests itself in a multitude of ways that we could ever imagine. One moment, we could be suffering from depression, while the next we may have the greatest pride in ourselves. There is an importance then, in moving from an abstinence from sin, to an appreciation of God and all his love for us. Because only when we can appreciate God’s extravagant love for us, can we begin to truly repent from our sins, and enjoy God more and more.

If we remove our dependency on sin, we must replace it with something else or we are merely translating our addictions to another idols. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The context of Jesus saying this is important, the parable is concerning the interaction between earthly and heavenly things, he is talking about holding onto things of this earth, greater than the heavenly revelation that we have been given.

The idea is that if we are to remove ourselves from the world, we would need to replace the world with something else. Where we are broken away from association with earthly people, we must replace it with communion with the Church. Where we crucify our pride, we need to replace it with humility which comes from God lest we grow bitter. Where we crucify our self-esteem, we must replace it with trust in Christ lest we grow spiritually depressed. When we take our eyes aways from idols, we must turn our eyes upon Christ on the cross. Without these things, our change will only be temporary.

 

Rick Warren: Saddleback’s Weight-loss Program

90 pounds is the amount of weight that Rick Warren has pledged to lose during a 52-week church fitness plan. The program was developed by Dr. Oz host of the eponymous daytime tv show, renowned physician Dr. Daniel Amen, bestselling author and psychiatrist, and Dr. Mark Hyman, a metabolism expert. ChristianPost.com reports that:

“The Daniel Plan, based on the prophet Daniel who chose healthy eating instead of the king’s rich foods, is a yearlong, churchwide program to help the Saddleback parishoners get physically healthier. “The Bible says that God wants you to be as healthy physically as you are spiritually,” said Warren in a video announcing the event. “The plan will help you feel better, look better, have more energy, get in shape, and use your body the way God wants you to.” (Source)

The site: www.danielplan.com allows members to track their progress as well as tips on nutrition and shopping.  Altogether it seems like a pretty tightly organised church event.

My fundamental issue with this is that it is a faulty interpretation of why Daniel abstained from the food of Nebuchadnezzar. Keeping to the Mosaic Law which proclaimed that: “It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.”” (Leviticus 3:17) Daniel rejected the King’s food not only because it most likely contained blood and pork, but would also have been consecrated to pagan Babylonian gods. The lesson drawn from the verse is nothing concerning actually food, but is illustrative of greater purity in a pagan culture.

Even to the extent of refusing the greatest food in the land, Daniel remained faithful to God. The Israelites had been captured by Babylonian forces and carried off to their land, they were allowed to try out their new diet for a short period of time.

In our modern context, the first principle of the Daniel plan should be abstaining from consumerism of the world. The essential meaning of Daniel refusing the king’s food was not one of dieting, but of not allowing oneself becoming conformed to the world. A worrying statistic in 2001, I read in the National Geographic was Americans spend about 40cents of every dollar they earn on food cooked outside of the home. While the article was concerned about food safety, I wonder how much we spend on food so much so that we are buying an image. For one, I totally admit, I drink Vitamin Water for the image. I don’t drink it as often now because I’m a poor student. But the image I’m buying is one of an pretender of trendiness and worldly fashions…and it tastes fantastic! Another example I can think of, is Starbucks. They make horrible coffee, but the fact is they have built a reputation of being the quintessential American coffeehouse. Most of what we pay is for the image, not so much the coffee. The movement away from forms, and more towards greater substance both in biblical teaching as well as our living out of the gospel would lead to healthier lives, spiritually and physically.

Moreover, the materialism that appears in our churches what we must fight against. If anything, Daniel was opposed to his physical appearances to his captors, but instead he pursued religious fervour. Is it not more indicative of how we should pursue God, and forget how the world sees us? 1 Timothy 3:15 says: “If I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.” If anything, I dislike the use of church time for the introduction of this event. Quite simply, it is not the function of the church. So if the church fails to be a pillar and ground of truth, using secular means to weight loss, how can it begin to convince anyone when they speak of new bodies in heaven?  While I’m not saying that we should totally neglect our physical health, physical health should be a natural consequence of good spiritual health. Knowing that God created our bodies and created us with purpose, should spur us on to take care and value human life essential to His glory.

10 days was all they had. Admittedly shorter than the 52 church fitness program that Rick Warren suggests. But Daniel and the other 4 youths who joined him, emerging from the program:

“it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.”So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Daniel 1:14-17 (English Standard Version)