Wednesday, November 30, 2011

God Substitutes (and their dangers)

From Tim Keller's notes in "The Reason For God."

If you centre your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.

If you centre your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

If you centre your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

If you centre your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

If you centre your life and identity on pleasure, gratification and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the ‘escape strategies’ by which you avoid the hardness of life.

If you centre your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

If you centre your life and identity on a ‘noble cause‘, you will divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and demonise your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

If you centre your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Day of Feasting or Fasting?

18 Now kJohn's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, l“Why do John's disciples and mthe disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, n“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 oThe days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and pthen they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old qwineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22

The question is: is today a a day of feasting or fasting? Several have questioned my understanding of this text which I preached this past Sunday. So for them and others who may be questioning but not asking, let me explain more carefully why I think that today is a day of feasting and not fasting.

First, is context. The two attendant parables give strong support to today as a day of feasting. In both of the illustrations there are two new things, a new patch and new wine. These two news things stand opposite to the two old things, an old garment and an old wineskin. The two new things refer to what has been introduced by the revealed Messiah. What He is replacing is old and unrepairable, being made obsolete by what has been introduced through him. Although the Messiah will be physically taken away from them in death, he will shortly return in spirit to continue what he inaugurated, represented by the new patch and new wine. There is no going back to the old now that the new is come. The new is here to stay and the old is gone for good. Grace and faith reign, while law and works are dead! That calls for a feast, not fasting.

Second, is other scripture. Right before his ascension Christ promised the eleven disciples that they had all authority under heaven and earth to go and make disciples of all the nations. And they would not be alone, for he would be with them, even to the end of the age - see Matt 28:20. Though he would not be with then physically, he would be with them in spirit. Another text is Hebrews 13:5 which states: Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” According to this text, Christ is with us. He has not left or forsaken us. The only possible way to harmonize these texts with Mark 2:20 is to understand Jesus as referring to the time between his death when he was violently taken away (see Isa 53:8) and the coming of his Spirit on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers with great power and joy (see Acts 2:13)

Hope that helps.

Is Depression a Sin?

This past Sunday I made the rather abrupt comment that “depression is a sin.” Several have asked me to clarify what I meant by that statement, and I need to because there are important qualifiers that I left unsaid that need to be said. Ironically, what I should have not said (as I did), I didn’t say enough about!

What I did not mean by that statement was that all forms of depression are to be categorically traced to willful sinful thoughts or actions in a persons life. I do believe that chemical imbalances can induce depression in a person. In such cases, this kind of depression cannot be treated as you would a spiritual issue, but requires expert medical intervention. While we must be careful not excuse personal sin on medical grounds, we must not fail to recognize that our minds, like the rest of our bodies, can at times become sick and require medical solutions.

What I did mean by this statement was that depression, as is commonly experienced by most, feelings such as unfounded fear and anxiety, extreme discouragement, self-pity, lack of hope, etc., has at its’ root, sin - specifically the sin of unbelief. When these feelings and thought patterns engulf us, I believe that it is due ultimately to a failure to grasp all we have and are in Christ. If we believe Romans 8 then we have no legitimate reason for any of these fears and anxieties. God is, after all, for us! This is the form or kind of depression I was referring to in my statement. The divine treatment is such cases is prayer, the Word of God, fellowship and service.