Monday, September 26, 2011

Are you in the correct lane? Part 4

As I understand it, Simon and Garfunkel were sitting in a car, smoking pot, when listening to the first radio broadcast of their music. Apparently, the ecstasy of living an accomplishment few would know wasn’t sufficient enough that it had to be supplemented with drugs.

During a recent business trip, I watched a program where a person was attempting to scale the north-face of the Eiger without ropes. His reason for this, as is likely the same motivation for all similar stunts, is perhaps paraphrased as follows: “I feel most alive when I confront certain death head-on.”

A few weeks ago I watched one of my favorite films, Doctor Zhivago. As always one of many scenes covering the sordid antics of Victor Komarovsky caused me pause. Specifically, he had been having an affair with a widowed business woman, and then decided to move in on her beautiful daughter. Upon learning this, the widow attempted suicide by swallowing iodine. Komarovsky, fearing a scandal, called a professor from the medical school to discretely handle the case. Now, what I would like us to note from this all too real fictional situation is what the professor tells the young Zhivago after the two of them save the widow's life: “He [Komarovsky] knows life; he had a scare, tonight, though.”

Jesus tells us that he came to give us life, and life to the fullest. We immediately know from this that whatever we mean by life falls far short of what God intended for us. And because He loves us so much, He came to dwell with us in order to restore us to true life.

Perhaps you don't agree, and hold up the above-mentioned people in support of your position. I propose that none of those people, nor those they might represent, have experienced the abundant life Jesus promised us. True life involves achievements, to be sure; but such achievements require no augmentation. The life God wants for us is so rich, multifaceted, compelling, and unending,we need not trick it out to assure ourselves it's real or sustain interest in it. And the life that Christ has redeemed us thrives through the power of God's love working in a community, not selfish-ambition.

I submit that this true and abundant life that God created us for in the beginning, and in later times came to restore, can only be lived by authentic human beings—people who stay in the correct lane.

As we have learned, an authentic human knows his/her true identity, so he/she seeks to please God first by making his/her unique contributions to His kingdom. And this is fully gratifying and thoroughly satisfying to the person because his/her accomplishments resonate perfectly with whom he/she is; the person lives life to the fullest.

A good example of this is my wife. She works with children with autism. And even though there are numerous challenges, she is fulfilled by her work, and is, as she often says, in her element. She is one of those fortunate ones whose kingdom work is also their vocation. But the key to her success is she seeks to please God and therefore serve others instead of herself.

Most of us struggle with finding our identity because we look for it within ourselves; we do this most often on the basis of other people’s expectations, our own whims and romantic ideas, and, sometimes, desperation. I cannot possibly know for sure, but great talents such as Simon and Garfunkel may have found their element—many like them may not be that far from whom God created them to be--only never fully apprehended it because their focus has been on themselves rather than glorifying God. It’s an observation, not a judgment; I just know how much my own dissatisfaction in my own life—something I struggle with to this day--has been because too much of my self has gotten in the way.

Only by pursuing our creator fully and singularly can one hope to find one’s place in the kingdom, and know true fulfillment. And such fulfillment is perfectly satisfying because we are a part of something outside of ourselves.

The full life that Jesus promises is also not living to die. To attempt to intensify life, to experience a full life, by tempting death is totally self-serving. True courage is facing death for the preservation of life, not to see life as a cheap commodity that somehow gains value when we are willing to toss it away. Authentic humanity was created to live, not die. Besides, the authentic human is too caught up in the splendor of true life to ever question its reality.

Finally, the full life Christ promises is realized in a community—the kingdom of heaven. True life is first seeking to please God, and in so doing, celebrating and promoting others ahead of ourselves. This is axiomatic of the kingdom: to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then love others as God has loved you.

Komarovsky and the human race with him have sought to live by manipulating and exploiting others. His ilk supposes to find fulfillment by making and breaking alliances, moving in and out of marriages, cheating others in business deals, withholding their property when others are in need, playing one against the other, bearing false witness, betraying others, and on and on. Such are the lifestyles of the dead, not the truly alive authentic human. We know this is true because Komarovsky feared only for himself at the widow’s brush with death.

Jesus came to restore authentic humanity, to bring life, and life to the fullest. This means being who we were created to be, preserving and valuing life at all costs, and being kingdom dwellers--all through the power of God, for His glory. Therefore, we can only live life to the fullest by sharing in the Divine nature. And sharing in the Divine nature, we not only live life to the fullest, but live forever, because God is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Are you in the correct lane? Part 3

Several years ago a race was run at the Special Olympics. As the runners made their way around the track, one of the competitors stumbled and fell. The other runners stopped and went back to the fallen runner, helped him up, and together they ran the remainder of the race and crossed the finish-line.

Those Olympians were truly special and certified champions; they all deserved gold medals; for they understood the kingdom of heaven probably better than anyone else has, including me. Indeed, they should be writing this blog instead of me.

We have been discussing authentic humanity, how it involves individuals with unique identities. But we must be careful not to overstate this. We humans have a penchant for swinging pendulums to the extremes. Authentic human beings are individuals with unique identities, but they are unified in a community—the kingdom of heaven—without annihilating those identities.

As we have shown, the kingdom of heaven diverges radically from the various systems promoting assimilation. However, the kingdom of heaven is also decidedly not a model for the rugged individualism fundamental to American political philosophy.

The American political paradigm is the best in the world, but it isn’t perfect. Thanks to philosophers such as John Locke who had more than incidentally influenced its inception, America has exaggerated the importance of the individual.

Unfortunately, these Lockean concepts have insinuated their way into the Christian church, such that we saw the rise of spot-conversions during the nineteenth century. Instead of focusing on becoming disciples, as Jesus commanded in His great commission, people (not all people responding to the Gospel message) have tended to view the transaction as just another box checked off their to-do list. This individualistic approach to Christianity has festered into an unhealthy self-interest all too prevalent in the American church today.

Of course, Jesus came to restore the individual. This is a great and glorious and unfathomable act of God in His Love for us. But the restoration of the individual is only a part of God’s intent to restore the kingdom of heaven and, ultimately, the cosmos—the Glory of God manifested through His Glory (yes, that’s right: God’s Glory—who He is in power and faithfulness—is manifested in His Glory that is the vast growing fabric that is the kingdom of heaven.)

What happens in a society based on rugged individualism is everyone attempts to promote and distinguish themselves above everyone else. Surprisingly, both a unity in purpose and the true distinctions of identities are lost. The best--and I use this superlative loosely--outcome will be a unity of kind because everyone becomes grasping, jealous, suspicious, greedy, resentful, and on and on. In short, everyone becomes competitive.

I’m the first to enjoy a good football game. I’m very competitive, myself, especially when it comes to the game of Scrabble; they don’t call me the crusher for nothing. Competition is certainly the driving force of capitalism, of which I have reaped benefits for myself and my family; I have been very fortunate. Even though competition drives our world, it is not what drives the kingdom of heaven.

God created us to be a kingdom with Him, where we work through, by, and for Him to, maintain and grow the universe He created. We accomplish this by knowing and acting in accord with our true identities through the grace that God provides. When we do this, competition ceases because we are content in who we are and each of us celebrates who the next person is, and together as a community we accomplish God purposes; we become a unity of purpose—a community—while preserving our unique identities.

We could all stand to learn this from those special Olympians. They all ran the race, and together they each did their part. And they all won the race—something was built, improved, healed and revealed that day--because they completed it together without compromising who they each were as individuals. They were authentic human beings. And they demonstrated for us in very simple clear terms the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are you in the correct lane? Part 2

One of my favorite recurring themes in the Star Trek franchise is, the Borg. I like it for the same reason I like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; if you’re in the mood for a thriller, neither ghosts, monsters, espionage, nor zombies will quite cut it; the definitive word on terror is, assimilation. Why? Because, assimilation is all about losing our identities.

As terrifying the prospect of losing one’s identity is, it’s interesting that numerous belief systems in the world hold assimilation as the ultimate objective.

The stoics saw us as being caught up in a single pattern of fate repeating itself over and over forever, where we start from fire and eventually reabsorb back into fire. The evolutionary materialists see us all disintegrating into the elements from whence we came, and re-assimilated into an infinite repository to be recast like so many dice. The sundry eastern religions seek an assimilation into the One.

The attraction of these various systems for us is they take us off the hook. They satisfy our innate hunger for a spiritual reality while putting very little demand on us. Indeed, the little demand imposed by these systems, such as meditation, only serves to temporarily sedate us who are an angry, frustrated, fearful, and insecure humanity. The great irony here is our acquiescence to fate allows us to remain in control--or so we would like to believe.

We have become this desperate race because we have all misplaced our authentic identities. We don’t know our real names. We misplaced them because we have insisted on defining our identities on our own. In the words of my teenage daughter: “Fail!” We cannot hope to be authentic humans unless we start from the self we were created to be. And only God knows what that is; only God can explain it to us; and only by walking intimately with the one true God will we ever fulfill our identities.

I must digress for a moment to note that our fascination with assimilation and death and such things stems from a central belief that they are natural and therefore inevitable. Hence, we say to ourselves: I’m going to be wearing this someday. I might as well try it on for size.

But death and assimilation are not natural outcomes. They are unnatural. God created us to live, and to live as unique individuals bearing a singular identity—a name belonging to no other.

What do I mean, then, by this all important thing called, identity? My friend Tim Brygger has spent years pondering this question, and this fall he will publish a book called, Becoming, to answer this difficult question. I recommend going to his web site,, for further details. For now, I will quote, from the introduction of Becoming, Tim’s definition of identity for us to consider:

Identity is an idea, but an individual idea. He is not humanity or mankind, but the distinct idea of each individual person. He is tricky to get a solid grasp of because every person’s identity is different.
Identity started out as the great idea of his Creator. When he was only that idea, he had a distinct form….

What defines him is his uniqueness; his specific attributes. These are his unique offerings from The Creator to all the rest of creation. His unique attributes have incredible value and purpose – not because of what they do, but because of the potential that they were created with! As He plays upon those uniquenesses with creativity and takes hold of the intrinsic, beautiful potential, he finds incredible satisfaction and joy in being himself and playing his part.

To further describe him would be to describe a person. His identity is what makes him who he is, everything he was equipped with at his inception: natural talent, created personality, his ‘bent’ to contribute in a distinct fashion… every characteristic that was original in him (that preceded the influence of “environment”)

Quite a beautiful and elegant synopsis, wouldn’t you agree?

We were created to be authentic humans. Only as authentic human beings will we achieve the purposes and meanings intended by God. God created us in His image, so we are necessarily relational individuals. To be relational individuals who achieve the purposes of God requires we each have an identity. Jesus has redeemed us to lead us back to our true identities. He tells us that if we believe in Him, acknowledge him as King, He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep who He calls each by name, and we respond because we know Him.

Therefore, God intended all along that we should be a community in which He dwells: a unity of unique individuals without losing the distinctions of the individuals--not an assimilation. This community is what Jesus called, the kingdom of heaven, and is both God’s intended purpose and the vehicle He chose in His Love and holiness to achieve His purposes. This community is God’s glory, and the topic of next week’s posting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Are you in the correct lane?

Every day driving home from work I pass a sign that reads, “Are you in the correct lane?” The reason for this sign is the city had decided to spot its landscape with rotaries. In my opinion, it’s a good idea because it keeps traffic flowing with less fatal accidents. But Midwesterners are used to stop-and-go lights, and find the rotary a bit of an enigma--hence the sign. Apparently too many people have been entering the rotary in the wrong lane, and when they realize it, they attempt to change lanes within the rotary, and whether or not it will be less fatal than past intersection collisions, there will be an accident, eventually.

But this blog is not going to be a commentary on civil engineering. The sign in question got me thinking about something else far more important. I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking he’s going to talk about the Gospel: are you saved? Or are you following Jesus?—that sort of thing. No, the sign prompted me to ponder once again the outcome of the Gospel message; specifically, what does it mean to be authentic humanity?

The church fathers called the consummation of our salvation in Christ, deification. By this, they didn’t mean that we become God; rather, we share in the Divine nature. No created being can ever be God. But every human being, because he or she was created in God’s image, was created to share in His Divine nature. Why? The answer is because, for the same reason, all Mankind was created to be authentic humanity. And it is not possible to be an authentic human without sharing in the Divine nature. Therefore, what the church fathers meant by deification was becoming authentic humanity.

The church fathers were correct. We were created to be authentic humans. Thus, when I see that sign each day, I wonder if I'm am in the correct lane to becoming an authentic human being, or if I'm in the wrong lane leading farther and farther away from that destination. If the latter is the case, then despite what the statisticians might say, I'm in for a fatal accident.

Authentic humanity can be broken down into at least three important parts (of course it can because three is the number of completion). I propose that the three aspects of authentic humanity are identity, community, and eternal life.

During the course of the next several blogs I will attempt to flesh out these three attributes of authentic humanity. But first I want to leave you with a little homework assignment. This week I want you to consider this question: What is my name? Now don’t you dare come come back with John, Freddy, or Freda. I don’t mean your given name. I want you to ask yourself who you are as a unique individual; if you were to strip away all the pretence, noise, and the claims of others, what would you find remaining? Who are you really? And what name would you give that person?
Bon chance! See you next week.