Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quest for Admin Parking - Conclusion

Admin parking by CMJimenez
Admin parking, a photo by CMJimenez on Flickr.
This series of memoir-styled essays has focused on the Epistle written to Titus who was stationed on the island of Crete.

It my be assumed that the reference to "admin" is directly related to his position as a Church official in the primitive churches on Crete. While this is true of his situation, and the topics covered are important for Church officials, it is superficial at best to consider this collection in that light.

First of all, Church administration is not a quest. Those who are power-hungry enough to seek promotion in the Church are dangerous, and already have their reward.

It is best to consider admin parking as a place, a place that is reserved. We, as Christians, are given a position. This position is a destination that we are driving to. These elements (Faith, Grace, Soundness) are a place that God has reserved for us, and we are guaranteed to make it there!

Consider admin parking also for it's proximity. It's the closest parking spot to the party! You won't have to walk so far to get to the fun stuff (or the office). This spot that God has for us is close to Himself. In fact, it is back to his own image. We strive against ourselves to become like Him.

This is why these elements (doctrine, holiness, truth) are not single parts that are to be done. These are like threads in a garment, all working together to make the final product beautiful and useful.

The garment? We are to put on Godliness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Cure For Insecurity - Faith

"101212 San Francisco 0158b Parking" by eric.kornblum

Victorious faith is always proved by its actions, not by its claims.
-- Dr. David Humphreys

Faith is a key term in this epistle. It can be argued that faith is a key term throughout all of the epistles. It can also be argued that faith is a key element in the entirety of Christendom and God’s relations with man. Faith is the catalyst of every religion and world-view that has ever surfaced on this planet. Everyone has faith in something.

I can make this claim because I have a clear definition of faith. Faith, as defined by C. S. Lewis in his foundational work Mere Christianity, is the art of holding on to things that your reason has once accepted. Everyone on earth has a world-view, religious or not, that was accepted by a particular person’s intellect at some point in time. And the conviction to hold on to that mental assent, even when varying opinions arise, is what we call faith.

For example, I remember being awakened one morning by my parents at an ungodly hour. They were fully dressed and wide awake. I wanted to continue in my slumber. But it only took a few magic words to get me out of my funk.

Do you want to go to Disney World?
I could not believe my ears. What? Disney?
Yes, we are going to take you to Disney World!
When? I asked, fully aware that the sun was still asleep, When are we going to Disney?
Right now, was the response, unless you would rather sleep.

Needless to say, I did not choose to sleep. I darted out of bed, brushed my teeth and threw on the clothes my mother had set out for me. I hopped in the car in amazement that we were going to Disney right then.

We dropped my sister off with my Grandmother and hit the Turnpike. I fell back asleep within the hour and woke up at the magical gates of Walt Disney World.

We rode rides. We took goofy pictures in new Goofy hats. We shared drinks and meals and ice creams with Mickey ears. We joked and laughed and hugged. It was an amazing day that made an incredible impression on my life.

The impression? My parents love me.

What was my rationale? They were excited to spend the day with me. They woke up early to get the day started, they dropped off my sister so they could be alone with me, they paid money to enter the park, they paid money to feed me, they paid money for silly trinkets for me, we hugged one another and the list goes on. All of Gary Chapman’s love languages were shared with me. I spent almost an entire 24-hour day under the direct affections of both my parents.

That last sentence is a blessing in and of itself, and it solidified the statement, My parents love me. There is no denying that as a fact, especially after our special day together.

But let’s say the next week my parents did the same exact thing again--for my sister. They woke her up and took her to the Magic Kingdom and spent the day and their money with her. Let’s suppose that I was the one left behind with my grandmother to wait 20 hours for them to return.

It would be natural to have feelings of abandonment and loneliness in this situation. I could imagine wondering why they left me there and why we couldn’t all go together. Perhaps doubts would arise in the back of my mind about my father’s love for me or whether my mother truly enjoys my company. Maybe the natural jealousies of sibling rivalry will well up in my soul, causing me to compare my worthiness to my sister. Such emotions are reasonable and understandable. This is the way life works, things happen which shake us and challenge what we believe.

But I know that my parents love me. Faith says, I don’t care how you feel today, I know that what was true yesterday remains true today. Faith is a stubborn mule who does not relent no matter who is pushing or pulling him around.

Paul mentions Faith, Faithfulness, Belief and Diligence numerous times in his letter to Titus. However, Paul does not offer much teaching on faith. Faith is assumed because he is writing to a believer. In the same way, we can assume that the true believer in today’s world should also be marked by the ability to withstand the elements of this world by holding on to the reasonable things that we once accepted.

Now, by this definition of faith we can rightly assume that while all have faith, not all faith is equally sound. One can rationalize a faulty premise and build their faith on skewed facts. They may continue to hold on to that belief even when stronger evidence proves true.

The Christian’s faith is not something that is imagined by himself. His faith is founded in something outside of himself. Titus 1:9 gives us a hint at what the Christian’s faith is grounded in as Paul instructed Titus what to look for when appointing Elders:

               Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught,

Therefore, the Christian has faith in the word of God which is what we are taught. We trust that the ancient scriptures are faithful as they have stood the test of time and remain relevant. We believe that the Bible contains the correct instructions to cultivate a healthy relationship with God. We hold fast to the account of God’s dealings with humanity and learn of His character. Through the Bible we have confidence that God is a being that is invested in the affairs of this world. We know that He loves His creation, not only because of what He says about it--and He says that He loves the world many times--we know about His love by His actions.

If we have faith in God because of His actions, then it stands to reason that we show our faith through our actions. That is what Paul essentially says in Titus 3:8:

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

Notice that faith is a prerequisite for the maintenance of good works. Notice also that there seems to be no debate whether or not faith leads to action. When faith takes precedence in the Christian’s life, you will notice it through plain observation of the way he lives. The Christian is willing to take risks for other people because he is confident in his God’s provision.

We have experiential knowledge of God’s goodness, we know His character will not change when life gives us lemons. As a result, we should extend little samples of God’s sweetness to those around us.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

It Has A Sweet Grill & Scatters When the Light Turns On - Old Self

"2 CV - Classic Citroen" by Svensson1978

In man's total unfaithfulness and immorality God remains faithful. No matter how deep or evil the unfaithfulness.
-- Jonathan Brower

When scripture broaches the topic of mankind after Genesis 2, things are never rosy. That usually happens when a relationship has been broken. I remember one Easter I was at a friends house for an egg-hunt when this idea of broken relationships became concrete.

It was during that wonderful time of a young man’s life when watching sports becomes as interesting as playing them. I discovered baseball and focused on pitching. Granted, I was never good at it, but I learned quickly that in order to critique one did not necessarily need to actually be able to perform better than the object of said criticism. 

I remember seeing someone, and I do not remember who, pitch with a sidearm delivery. He was a sinker/slider pitcher whose goal with the delivery was to deliver ground-balls to the infield which could be fielded and then the runner could be thrown out at first base. I was mesmerized. I threw anything I could with a sidearm delivery, gave it a little flick of the wrist and watch the object magically swerve and sink downward. I was cool even though nobody actually told me so.

So I was walking around the house, kinda bored because I was too old to hunt for eggs with only candy stuffed inside (hide money and I was all over it). I had some M&Ms in my hand and I decided it would be fun to throw them, with my patent-pending sidearm delivery, at passing vehicles.
Don’t get me wrong, I was not stupid. I made sure that the vehicle was just about passed before I lobbed my pitch. Plus, I chose a very long sedan to throw my M&Ms at. Further, I reasoned, it’s not like I threw a rock or anything. It was just a piece of chocolate.

I threw a strike on my very first pitch. Ting! I must have nailed the last possible centimeter of the very end of the bumper. I heard it. A couple friends nearby heard it. And, to my chagrin, the driver heard it. As I turned to casually exit the scene, out of the corner of my eye I saw red brake lights. My pace quickened and as soon as I was sure I could not be seen, I took off running to the bathroom. When you gotta go, you gotta go, right?

My afternoon went from mild boredom to absolute dread at every corner. I feared the host, thinking if this guy tells anyone, it will get to him. I also feared my father, because if the host knew, then my dad will surely find out; and this story took place during the time before I outgrew spankings.
I stayed either inside or out back for about 45 minutes. I figured it must have blown over. It’s not like people couldn't find me if they were really looking. I ventured back out front. However, it seems the driver decided to keep circling the block, looking for the punk kid who threw something at his car. He spotted me. Again I ran for cover, so scared I could almost puke. I will not go back out there, I promised myself, until it’s time to leave.

So about an hour later I wandered back out front. This time, I witnessed what turned my consternation into absolute, flat-out, no holds barred terror; the driver was talking to my host. All this time I was afraid, and he had no clue what I had done. After they finished, the driver left and the host went to talk to a group of boys that were playing. I decided that it would be in my best interest to leave, find a good quiet place and pray that we would leave soon. 

I have never read of God answering this type of prayer in the affirmative, as was the case with my prayer. I ran until I could run no more. I hid until I could hide no more. My host approached me, put his great, big arm around me and asked if I had a moment to talk.

I will never forget his introduction to the lecture; it was not original, but it’s effect was deep: I have a bone to pick with you.

Did you throw a rock at somebody's car this afternoon?
No sir, I didn’t. This was, of course, the sort-of truth.
After a look of confusion, and maybe a little shock at my bold-faced lie, I clarified, I threw an M&M and happened to hit his car.
He went on to explain that he understood what a thrill it may be to throw things at moving cars, but how this was very wrong and dangerous. He opened my non-driver eyes to the things that enter a motorist’s mind when they hear a strange noise as they pass through a neighborhood. But, mostly, he stressed that I could have damaged the vehicle and there could have been some legal trouble so I should stop throwing stuff at cars. As a result, I apologized and he forgave my actions. This sent me a measure of relief. I also managed to avoid him the rest of the day.

My host had acted as a mediator between myself and the driver. He went between us, took the responsibility of checking for damages, got an earful from him and paid the price (even if that price was only a full fledged apology). He took the brunt of the violence my actions warranted. If that sounds familiar, it’s what Christ does for us as recorded in Titus 2:13 & 14.

looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Jesus Christ is our mediator. He is the one who took the blows from an angry God on behalf of a despicable humanity. He bought us back from the slave owners who hate us, and He tries to soothe our wounds. And now we look with anticipation for his coming.

There’s only one problem with this picture, it’s an ideal. It is not actuality, it is what we strive to achieve. Consider the conclusion of my illustration, I received a measure of relief and I avoided him. There was still a rift in our relationship. Maybe I felt indignant, perhaps my pride was crushed. I certainly felt that our relationship would take a while to repair--he forgave me, but I did not forgive myself. So whenever I saw my host, I heard the ting of that M&M hitting the bumper and felt my heart sink. He will surely bring it back up, I thought. But he has not done so to this day, just as Christ will not. We are redeemed not as an object to be owned, but as a relationship to be repaired. Those old lawless deeds are no more, we are free to please Him if only we stopped wallowing in the muck of self-pity, self-loathing and self-absorption. It is not about what we have done, it is about what He has done.

I have heard preachers talk about the Old Man in a Christian’s life as a zombie. The undead walking around making everyone miserable. I believe there is a lot to be said for that illustration, but since it’s not my own I decided to come up with something new (though there’s nothing new under the sun). My term for this zombie-like, Old Man Christianity: Roach-like Living.

Everyone in South Florida has encountered both the Cockroach and the Palmetto Bug. Once we moved into our new condo in 2010, my wife was surprised to find a roach crawling out of the garbage disposal (which did not work), she cried for me to be her savior. My response? I told her to Just kill it! I didn’t want to get involved. But alas, I obliged and defended my damsel from the evil beast. Then the worst part comes, cleaning him up. I grabbed him with a piece of toilet paper and felt his appendages twitching in response to late-life nerve signals. I then gave him a burial at sea.

That is what a Christian looks like when he lets the Old Man take control, like a twitching Cockroach whose guts have been splattered across the kitchen floor. And yes, I meant to make you squirm with that graphic, disgusting image.

When we were redeemed from the old life, we were simultaneously redeemed to a new one. You are probably thinking, Duh, but actually let that sink in. We were not redeemed to sit around in a pew because the world is devolving. When we sit, we are liable to get dragged back down. We are redeemed to actively identify ourselves with Christ and get busy doing His will--A.K.A. being Christ-like. I think Paul says it best in Titus 3:3-7:

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
I love the use of tense in this passage, namely: past. We were once wicked and evil, we have been saved, justified and have become heirs. All in the past. There is no more that needs to happen to the Christian. Our character has been changed already.

I have had a few run-ins with holiness groups, people who claim that the believer in Christ never sins. These people believe that this passage is a proof-text for the idea that if one sins, then they are not saved. With apologies to those who subscribe to this hermeneutic, I believe that is a simplistic understanding of the passage. Perhaps we should return to the roach illustration.

The roach does not resurrect itself to twitch. It is not somehow made alive again. The nasty thing twitches despite the fact that it is dead. It can no longer harm you or crawl around in the shadows because it is no longer living. This is akin to what happens when a believer sins, the Old Self is not resurrected per say, it is just twitching. We need not fear it or give in to it’s desires, we need only to flush it down the toilet. Granted, I am being overly simplistic here myself. I understand that crucifying the Old Man is a mission that is not easily completed, but according to scripture, it’s a done deal.

When it comes to the Old Man, the heavy lifting has already been done. Christ in His mercy has already taken care of that. We just need to reckon it so. To reckon is to take the cold, hard facts and apply them to a situation. I have since reckoned that my Host has forgiven me, and I accept his mercy. I reckon that Christ has redeemed me from Sin, I do not hold my guilt against myself. I reckon that my old character is dead, any relapse is just a twitch which I do not fear, but find terribly revolting.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Problem with Photoshop - Truth

"No Parking" by skrotmumrik      

You are a truth-filled God, you define truth.
-- Andy Fritchey

Have you ever printed photos from the corner drugstore?
Or course you have, Facebook and Flickr have not completely revolutionized the way we share pictures, have they?
My father takes birthday and anniversary pictures for chapel every month, edits them, and sends them to the corner drugstore for printing. I had to pick up the Church pictures one day because my father could not do so on his own for one reason or another, and it turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. It shook me to the core.
My girlfriend and I went to the one-hour photo place a couple hours after my father submitted his pictures. A Chinese man sat behind the counter looking busy, so I interrupted his meditation and informed him that we were there to pick up my father’s prints and I gave him my dad’s name.

         These pictures look very good, he said, giving me a strange look.
         Thanks, I responded unsuspectingly.
         These look professional, he continued.
If there is one pitfall that I always get trapped in, it is this: I assume that everyone shares my sense of humor. (Note to self: learn that not everyone shares my twisted perspective.)

Oh yeah, I sarcastically responded, these pictures are professionally shot. I chuckled, assuming that my suave charm had done it’s magic and we could proceed to payment so I could move on with my life.
    You can’t have prints. The photo clerk insisted, No professional prints, copyright.
It dawned on me that the man was not complimenting my dad’s photography skills. He really thought that I stole  professional, copyrighted material from someone else and that I was trying to get cheap prints of them.

I think there’s some kind of misunderstanding here, I reasoned, you see, these are my dad’s--
            No, no. You are trying to trick me. He continued, You are very tricky.
By that point I had heated up, No sir, you are mistaken. I was just kidding. My dad takes these pictures for church. He always sends them here to get prints.
           You a liar! He screamed at me over an outstretched index finder. You a liar.
Luckily, my girlfriend was able to smooth things out somewhat with the man and we ended up leaving with the prints and a few more insults. But what struck me was the emphasis he placed on his three-word condemnation: You a liar!
I have never been called a liar (to my face) in all my life. Much less in my adult life. But it did not hurt so much that he thought I was lying or that I was capable of lying. Everyone is prone to deception, whether from a deceived mentality or a more decrepit motive. What really hurt was the fact that he made a moral judgement of my character. What he was saying was I, by nature, am characterized by lies.

There is something juvenile in the phrase: You a liar. It’s filthy playground language. But do we not use that language every day?

    Please verify that...
    Where did you hear that, FOX News?...
    Never trust a politician...
    Who is your mechanic...

And on it goes. Sometimes we have a founded quest for truth. We do not want to go through life in naivete. But sometimes it’s not so founded.
Take Wikipedia for example. It is notoriously used in academic circles as a poster child for checking sources, with the idea that Wikipedia is a bad place to go to for information. However, studies have found that Wikipedia performs almost as well as the Encyclopedia Brittanica (Rubin, 245). (Plenty of other academic institutions have concluded that Wikipedia is actually not the Encyclopedic Antichrist.) One can consider Wikipedia to be accurate about 95% of the time due to extensive cross referencing.
I would suggest that 95% correct is pretty good. If I played 95% of the notes in a song right every time, I would be happy with my performance. A 95% career free-throw shooter would hold the NBA record. 95% is still an A in school, even with the strictest grading policy.  If I said the right things 95% of the time, I get in approximately 60% less trouble. OK, now I’m throwing figures around, but you get the point. 95% is not bad.
But that leaves room for 5% error.
A 5% chance of being 100% wrong.
This brings me to Titus.
Right off the bat, Paul, apostle, author of the letter to Titus, acknowledges in the first verse of the first chapter both godly truth and the fact that God cannot lie. This, my friend, is chiasmus, the repetition of a point for emphasis. Paul is saying, Know this, God is not a liar.
God does not “kid around.” God does not distort the truth to make a sarcastic point. God is unable to be anything but completely honest and straightforward. He is not going to trick you, it would simply be out of character for Him to be anything but sincere.
That being established, Paul contrasts this with true statements of men.
...there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, (1:10)
            ...the Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true.  (1:12,13)
            ...Jewish fables, and commandments of men, ...turn from the truth. (1:14)

Paul paints a deceitful picture of mankind here. The only wonder in my anecdote is that I am not accused of lying every time I turn around! Even religious truth and morality corrodes when it contacts man, sometimes devolving into a veritable pack of lies.
So what is the solution? What should man do when he realizes this condition? Paul says that we need to change.

...older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, (2:3) all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, (2:7)
...and...sound speech that cannot be condemned, (2:8)

You are corrupt. You are deceived, so how can you be anything but deceptive? What we need is a change from within in order to change what comes out. (If that sounds biblical, Jesus said it in Matthew 15:11 & 23:26.)
The orientation of our attitude must turn from self-willed to something that is more others-focused. Lies are nothing more than an attempt to protect myself despite what the consequences mean to others; liars have no integrity.
But we have a problem, we can’t change our own selves. In fact, we are the reason we are in this mess to begin with. Left to our own devices, we deceive one another. It’s no coincidence that Sin entered the world on the backs of half-truths and bold-faced lies.
It is a good thing Titus shows us the solution:

...we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

Most people enjoy looking at old pictures--I consider myself a little strange because sometimes old pictures freak me out, but I am in the minority on this one. Have you ever wondered the following while looking at those pictures?

          If only there was a way remove the acne from my teen-aged face.
          If only I could add more length to those shorts, what was I thinking?
          If only we could remove the evidence that I hung out with that crowd.
          ...that I drank.
          ...that I smoked.
          ...that I ______.

What if I told you it was possible? What if I told you that I could manipulate your photographs and make it seem like you were much better than you really were?
I have friends who can do all that and more. Want to look spiritual? How ‘bout we take a snapshot of you walking on water? Impossible you say? You are wrong. In fact, that’s old hat, we’re on to even greater things with the magic of Photoshop(R).
God uses Spiritual Photoshop(R) in our lives. But instead of cropping and blurring, He uses kindness and love. His toolbox includes grace and mercy. His wand is the Holy Spirit who washes with regeneration and renewal. God produces a picture of our lives that is justified and sanctified.
But there’s just one problem with Photoshop; me. I know those zits existed. I know what style I had. I know who my influences were. I know what things I used to do. They are still with me. They still haunt me to this day.
God does not lie to Himself--that is not even an option. He does not tell Himself that we were never evil. What he does is change who we are at the core level from now on. That way, He can then say we were at one time evil. He can tell Himself, and everyone else, that we are evil no more.
Therefore, God takes the wicked picture we have created in our lives and transforms it into that beautiful thing He intended it to be. He does not simply doctor it up with no real change in character, He truly changes who we are. I think this quote from our Elder, Dan Roberts, says it quite beautifully: “God has not changed, but rather He has changed us so now we can approach and worship Him on His terms.”
My God is full of grace and truth, and He is molding me back into His image.
A liar is what I was because I lied and felt no remorse. But I am a liar no more, because God’s truth has enlightened me. While I may stumble into deception from time to time, deception will never be a character trait assigned to me any longer.
I know that lies are against our character--mine and my God’s.

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Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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