The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
I often view my life the same way I remember playing Super Mario Brothers as a kid. To explain for those who didn’t come of age with video games, I spent hours of my youth jumping on turtles and eating mushrooms and strange plants (disturbing habits, if you think about it), trying to save a princess. Inevitably I would die, an ill-timed jump or flying goomba doing my little red plumber in. However, there was a sort of “grace mechanic” built into the game. As long as I had an extra life I could try again, hopefully learning from my mistakes. These extra lives were utterly essential, but they were also a finite resource. A player only had so many. Sure, I could buy more by collecting coins or finding rare green ‘shrooms (again, disturbing), but this almost never kept up with the attrition. Eventually I’d screw up for the last time and it would be all over.
We tend, in our hearts, to disbelieve the inexhaustible nature of God’s grace. Like the disciples, we count the number of times we must forgive our neighbor, hoping that one day we might bring down the hammer, and we assume God does the same with us. We are creatures of finite patience and limited mercy, and we view our Creator as being just like us. We keep glancing up, expecting to see a counter telling us how many chances we have left before God, like my Nintendo, tells us we’ve screwed up one time too many and it’s “Game Over”. Continue reading
I recently watched a two-hour discussion between a couple of Christian preachers from a big conference. I’ll leave everyone nameless because I’m less interested in who they were than what they discussed. In particular, at one point they entered into a debate about the way we as Christians need to think about material things. The first pastor (we’ll call him John) argued that the central issue for Americans is that they need to give up their attachment to material things (houses, cars, food, money, etc.). The second pastor (who we’ll call Doug) said this might be true, but that we also had to teach them how to truly enjoy and think about the material things they have, since most of them aren’t called to simply get rid of them. John agreed in principle, but pointed out that this wasn’t nearly as common a problem as over-attachment. Doug argued it’s still an issue because otherwise people are just left feeling guilty about the things they have, after which the conversation moved on to other things.
I have to confess that my sympathies are actually with Doug, but if you’re on John’s side, hear me out. It’s the last comment, that of feeling guilty about what you have, that I think highlights the weaknesses of the simplistic self-denial approach. But first, an anecdote. Continue reading
Note: It’s been six months; I’m now a Master of Divinity, a title decidedly more underwhelming in fact than in pretense. Since I now possess some of that mythical resource called “free time”, and since my one-year-old daughter hasn’t proven the most stimulating conversation partner, I’ve decided to take up blogging once more. However, I continue to have my guilt-free policy; I feel no more compelled to post than you are to read. Enjoy (or don’t).
I often hear Christians accusing others of being legalistic. It seems to be the go-to slur of evangelicalism, much like “socialist” is for Republicans or “Yankee” for my friends from the South. Now, I have no love for real legalism. However, the word is often thrown around with little care or precision. This is problematic both because it can be used as an unfair pejorative and because it leaves us without a stronger label to apply to those who really are legalistic. With this in mind, let’s ask how we might legitimately apply the label and then look at a few examples of what it isn’t. Continue reading