27 April 2009

The Snobbery of Etiquette

Recently as I was dining semi-formally someone noted that it is proper for the server to set down the plate from the left and to remove it from the right. Drinks however should be both served and removed from the right. And since there are multiple forks, you must start with the utensils furthest out and work inwards.

I get incredibly irritated by this stuff. Who cares from which side your plate comes? Do you really need multiple forks? Does it really matter?

It is certainly important to be polite and considerate when dining. But that's my whole point--being considerate.

Consider this boy: Ten years old, he lives in eastern India with his mother. His house has grass walls and a dirt floor. His father died. His mother does any labor she can to make money. They eat maize and rice. Do you think he cares if his plate is given him from the left? Do you think he wonders which fork to use?

So when someone insists upon adherence to some superficial pointless rules of etiquette, I take it as outright snobbery. Who are we trying to impress? Why do we want to act high-class? Lifting ourselves in this manner only pushes the lower class lower. Instead:

Rom. 12:16 Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

20 April 2009

Why Bad Things Happen

Why does God let bad things happen?

Short answer: Don't ask this question. God is God and we are but mere men. He is not obligated to explain Himself to us.

Slightly longer answer: Job 38-41.

Lame, unbiblical answer by people who need an explanation for everything: God gave us freedom. If he restrained evil, we wouldn't be truly free.

On a related note,

Rom 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"
Rom 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?"

18 April 2009

A Global World: Reality Is Real

In my signature style, I am going to finish a series I began over a month ago and have since put aside. We were talking about the nature of today's global world and postmodernism, particularly as it relates to communication. Out of that arose the issue of relativism, a distinguishing mark of postmodernism. This issue is critically relevant because we know each other, and most importantly we know God, through communication.

On this topic last time I 'rote:
I have a concept of something in my mind. I wish to establish that same concept in your mind. I am trying to do so with these words. This is basic communication. But to a postmodern reader, even if my words are 100% effective, the concept received by that reader can be whatever he wants it to be. He doesn't need to try to find the objective meaning to my words, since he has decided there is no objective meaning.

See the problem here? The obvious question becomes: What's the point of communication? This is where I'll start next time when I put the nail in the coffin on postmodern relativism.

And so I will now address this. My basic point is this: The existence of communication makes the existence of absolute truth self-evident. If there is no absolute truth to be known, there would be no reason to communicate--but since there is communication, there must be an absolute truth.

Someone once tried to convince me that everything is relative. Catch this: for him to make such a statement is to make a claim about reality. He tried to tell me how things really are. If you do that, obviously you imply that there is a certain way things really are. That's absolute truth, folks. So anytime a claim about reality is made absolute truth is necessary. To claim there really is no reality is just stupid.

When someone says, "The Bible has no absolute meaning--it can mean whatever I think it means," he is using words to communicate a concept, a concept he believes is true. So he is making a truth claim using words. That's exactly the Bible! The proper response in such a debate is, "So you mean the Bible has absolute meaning?"or "What did you say about my mother?!" If this person believes words don't necessarily communicate absolute meaning, then we don't need to take that person's words seriously either--we can take them to mean whatever we want.

Pretty silly, huh?

Relating this back to our global world, we must remember that the people we readily interact with may have very different experiences and perspectives than our own. Truth, however, is singular and absolute. Communication must be done with great care. Even as I 'rite this I don't know who you are reading it, yet I need to consider how you might receive these words. So I really hope you are with me.


09 April 2009

God's Hand in the Flood, Pt 2

The Red River Valley was settled because of its rich soil due to the spring water drainage through the region. This river seems made to flood. So are we destroying the beauty of the land by filling it with houses? In thinking about this I came across Ezekiel 36. It is a prophecy to the land of Israel. Yes, literally the land--the mountains and hills, ravines and valleys. God basically says, "Be patient, land. My people will soon return to live on you, to work the soil and build houses." See, not only is creation subjected to futility because of our sin, but creation's redemption comes through us, the redeemed in Christ (Rom. 8:19). (Yet sinful man's tendency is to abuse creation, so things like national parks are definitely good things.) And even if this weren't a fallen world, our purpose would still be to be fruitful and multiply (lots of houses) and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28). So it is good that we dwell here.

If you have followed me here for a while you know that our lives as Christians ought to be lived in simplicity. One thing contrary to simple living is a luxurious house. In all the panic about the flood, it seems to always come down to one thing: people don't want to lose their house. I grant you that a house is a significant investment and many times a good one to make. Even a plain nothing-special house can require a lot of money. It is the biggest financial plunge most people make in life. So when people are concerned about their houses I understand.

But! As believers, Jesus calls us to simple living:

Mat 6:19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,
Mat 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus could just as well added "floods" to the list of moth and rust. As this relates to simple living, I'm not saying buying a house is wrong. I'm saying that those who seek a simple life will have far less to worry about. Even if a house is lost, it was only stuff--not real treasure. As I see unbelievers in a panic, it makes sense. Christ's redeemed ought to be different. This also relates to the topic mentioned earlier about moving away to avoid natural disasters. I will acknowledge that there are certain places where disasters are less common than others. But again, as believers, is our goal in life to achieve the greatest comfort? Do we really need to find the easiest, most enjoyable place to live? Is not life more than this (Mat. 6:25)? Let's not seek these things, but rather His Kingdom and righteousness. Trust me--the new heavens and new earth will have plenty of good places to live.

It is interesting how revealing the flood has been. It has shown how superficial we can be. Suddenly our comfortable routines are threatened and we are forced to face the gravely serious reality. If it takes a natural disaster to get us to pray, then I say let's have one more often. As people are worried about their houses, their treasure, we can see where hearts are. As volunteers and home-owners work day and night to sandbag, we see where the treasure is. As I helped sandbag and witnessed the enormous effort so many people contributed to I couldn't help but think that Christians ought to be working this much and more for God's Kingdom. So much to save houses, yet so little to save the lost or sanctify the found. Where is your treasure? There is your heart--and your time and energy.

So what could be God's purpose in the flood? First, to His people. He wants us drawn ever closer to Himself. He's destroying our complacency. Second, to the lost around us. He is using this event to work through His people to deliver the truth of the real treasure. Scripture commonly portrays water as symbolic of cleansing. God is washing us. Finally, to display His glory. Whether hearts bow in submission or chests are beaten in defiance, God's power will be made known. For those called according to His purpose, even losing a house is made good.

As we fight this flood (and I'm all for fighting it) let's remember that it is by God's hand, and so

1Th 5:16 Rejoice always,
1Th 5:17 pray without ceasing,
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

06 April 2009

God's Hand in the Flood, Pt 1

It's been some time since I last posted, and I know you are waiting for more on that postmodern relativism hogwash. But since then you may have noticed that Fargo had a flood to fight. My life's routine was shaken up. Some things just weren't all that important anymore. So I am going to pause to reflect on God's hand in the flood.

Pro 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Deu 8:17 Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.'
Deu 8:18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Deu 8:19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.

I have found these passages particularly relevant in the past months over the state of America's economy. Now it has hit closer to home. You see, just a few weeks prior to Fargo receiving an enormous amount of national news attention over this flood fight, there was a CNN story on how Fargo seemed to be immune to the nation's economic woes. (And the Bison were in the NCAA tourney.) So as we puffed up over our great local economy we failed to give eye to the swelling river. Now, I don't believe pride goes before a fall because that's just the way it works; it happens because that's just the way God works. Should we forget that it is Him who gives wealth then He will allow us to fall so that we will return to Him. He wants us to realize our dependence upon Him. He is always upholding and sustaining us. We just need reminders sometimes. (Just to be careful, the Deut. passage is God speaking to Israel and of His covenant with them. I present it not as directly connected to the flood, but as insight into how God operates.)

I heard on the national news coverage someone question why people live here if it just floods all the time, referring to the flood of 1997. It must be acknowledged that people here should have learned after '97 to better address the issue. Now people may very well move away because of this flood. So you have the choice of which natural disaster you prefer: earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, etc. This isn't mother nature we are talking about--it's God. You can't move away from Him.

Rick Warren has said emphatically that natural disasters are not "God's will." Hmm...not sure what "Bible" that came from. I would agree that if this were not a fallen world there wouldn't be such disasters--creation was subjected to futility because of man's sin (Rom. 8:20-21, Gen. 3:18). So if we are talking about sin being contrary to God's will, I agree. But the Bible clearly communicates that all the weather is actively controlled by God, so I should certainly think it is God's will. There's not much you can argue given Amos 3:6b, "Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?" Of course not. For that reason, I love the phenomenon of weather. It is such an awesome way that God displays His power and reminds us of our weakness. While I am sympathetic to those whose lives were thrown in disarray by the flood, I've been overcome with excitement since the whole thing started. Read Job 37 and Psalm 104 for an example of what I mean. Here's a taste:

Job 37:9 From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds.
Job 37:10 By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.
Job 37:11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.
Job 37:12 They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.
Job 37:13 Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.

So I say

Psa 104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works,
Psa 104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke!
Psa 104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Psa 104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
Psa 104:35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!

To be continued...