No, Really, Two Is More Than Enough

I think I’m beginning to understand in a TINY way how ridiculous it is that life boils down to Two Great Commandments. Love God with everything in you as hard as you can all the time, and love your neighbor like you love yourself.

Such a straightforward mandate really scares some people, the folks who really want a school defined by a large number of very clear rules, a structure prepared in advance to handle any situation that could arise, a holiness code that guides all students in all situations.

They are afraid, I guess, that God underestimated man’s sinfulness or our need of rules to make us better people or whatever, and we need to help Him out by creating a few more than His ten.
Joey and I were talking today (it’s time for me to wrestle a class schedule into place for the upper school) and at one point it occurred to me that his job demands much servant-hearted love from him to us, the teachers and students and parents. I mean, teaching is heavily relational at NCS (a style that I am bold enough to call biblical, and perhaps normative) but we teachers aren’t called even to the level of sacrifice that Joey is.

I thought of the verse in either Matthew or Mark where Christ tells the disciples that while the Gentiles make a big deal of leaders by lifting the up, Kingdom leadership is marked by self-sacrificing servanthood. “Truly, I say to you, he who would be the greatest among you must be the servant of all.” “Except a corn of wheat fall in the ground and DIE, it cannot bear fruit.”

This love stuff isn’t for sissies.

As a teacher, I can’t really help a student unless I “own” his problems as my own. Human nature says, “Sink or swim, kid, I gave you the tools, now make it work.” Grace-based education says, “Even the classroom must model Christ as the Master Teacher.” And that means I can’t just leave behind a set of directions and walk off.  I have to get into the trench, shoulder the load, invest the time and attention to determine the right course of help.

Truth is, I’m a terrible lover. I love all the wrong things: my own comfort and happiness, my satisfaction and success, making things easier on myself, the easy road, the whim of the moment. To actually keep the Great Commandments is going to rip my heart out.

love iceAnd that’s the Grace of it. A new heart is exactly the point.

Biblical living isn’t rocket science. It’s putting myself out in order to work actively on someone else’s behalf (not merely “do no harm”).

It means DIE so that I can live.
But I don’t want to “die”……..not like that, anyway. I want a death with glory and pizzazz. There’s no pizzazz in plodding along, loving people. It’s hella inconvenient, messy, difficult, unrewarding at times, thankless, exhausting. Did I mention inconvenient?

Oh, God. Who is going to save me from the bondage of this death? 
Thanks be to God, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are IN Christ Jesus, who walk not in the way of the carnal nature, but in the way of the Spirit.  (Romans)

Love God with everything you are as hard as you can all the time.
Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

That really does encompass it all, folks.
God help us all.

Cross-posted to Teaching Redemptively, a space where several of us are trying to write and think about Grace-based education and relational teaching

On Sin: Revisited

Awhile ago I codified some key tenets about a biblical view of “sin.” You can find that entire post here, and it’s pretty short, designed for a quick read. I recommend visiting it before reading on…..
On Sin
It’s been on my mind for a while now to set down some more thoughts about defining sin biblically. Again, nothing I say here is new. This is orthodox, standard theology. But I need to hear it.

And I run into these misunderstandings repeatedly.
In short form:

1. As believers, we must recognize the primary authority of the Word in defining sin.

1a. Another way to say it: God gets to define what sin is. I don’t. Neither does my pastor, the Pope, or anyone else….though I would be foolish to think I can sort this out by myself.

Does the Bible, rightly and carefully interpreted, say any particular action or thought is WRONG?
If not, you don’t have the right to say it’s a sin.

2. The Spirit and the Word govern my conscience, a God-given early warning system. But the system has to be calibrated correctly to work right.

Rightly adjusted, my conscience can properly identify sin. But my conscience or my feelings or my traditions or expectations or experiences are not a substitute for a biblical definition of sin. And my conscience was warped by the Fall, just like everything else.  When you start to do something, does your conscience say STOP? Then STOP.  But go find out if your conscience was reacting biblically because…..
2b. The “weaker brother” gets no medals for being weak.

In fact, demanding a higher standard than God does is a sign of IM-maturity! 

Paul talks a lot about this in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.   He says, If I entice someone with a weak conscience to do something that person feels is wrong, I have overstepped the line.

But notice in both letters, Paul is taking time to ADJUST the weak consciences about the hot button issues of the day from a biblical standpoint. It’s not ok to leave people thinking they have got it all sorted out with their fancy system of rules. Replace “meat offered to idols” with drinking beer, listening to screaming metal music, celebrating Halloween, or smoking … you get the idea. Pastors and mentors are responsible for helping us adjust our consciences so they sound a warning at things that really are sin, not just stuff that bothers us.

3. We should acknowledge the wisdom of experienced Christians and submit ourselves to the elders who shepherd our churches when we choose how to act in the Body of Christ.
Nope, we’re not in this alone. I don’t get to make up my own Bible interpretations.  The entirety of the Body is very important here in preventing people from just going off on their own personal interpretation-wagons and missing the real point.  So my understanding of what God says about sin and righteousness is an exercise in interpretation-within-the-community-of-Faith.

4. If it’s a gray area, then it’s not sin… by definition. 

Biblically, “Sin” means sin. As in…. Wrong. Evil. Twisted. Polluted. Dirty. DONT DO IT.
This should not be confused with “inappropriate,” “unwise,” “dancing too close to the line” or anything in a similar “gray area.

This, folks, is where it all hits home. As you follow the Spirit and the Word and walk in the fellowship of the Body, you WILL come into conflict with other believers’ ideas of sin and righteousness. Are you willing to set aside the condemnation that arises so naturally in each of us when we find people who disagree?

I don’t get to define sin for you, outside God’s commands….which are difficult enough,

Building a fence around the Law to keep yourself or others from breaking it? That’s Pharisaism. No way around it.

A King knows there’s a big lake in the middle of his kingdom which is so dangerous, people drown when they try to swim in it. So he makes a Law for the people: Do not swim in the lake. His overseer comes along and says, “Hey, if we build a fence here, no o e can swim in the lake, so no one will drown!”   So he puts up a nice big fence, and labels it with large signs reading DO NOT APPROACH FENCE.

safe? Sure.

But that’s Pharisaism. And Jesus HATED it.

God says, “do not commit adultery.” Jesus unpacks this command in Matthew 5 and shows how the deep meaning of the command is “Don’t lust.”
What should you do?
Don’t lust.

What about setting a rule for myself that I won’t ever be in a car alone with the opposite sex?
You’re building fences.
It might be the right thing for you to do in this moment of your life. But recognize what you’re doing.

The Power of (Virtual) Choices

I have a confession to make.

I made some decisions that I thought were well-grounded, but two of my team members died. And a tough choice about a dangerous situation has been weighing on my mind ever since. It was a toss-up, a lesser-of-two-evils kind of thing, a choosing of bedfellows. My mind is uneasy.

See, I don’t usually have much time for video games, so I’ve been playing through a few good ones this summer since I have the time.

A well-written game functions like a story: it offers rich, deep characters; it flows along a well-developed plot structure provided by creative writers; it exists in a time and place crafted to enhance the tale.

But unlike a novel, games pull the player into the story as a participant. This kind of interaction is merely a pipe dream in the film world, despite all the 3D hoopla. I guess the old-fashioned “choose your own adventure” stories laid the foundation for what we now enjoy as role-playing or adventure games.

Not all game stories offer real significance, and I don’t have time for most intense RPGs. (You won’t find me playing Final Fantasy anytime soon.) And a lot of game plots are fun, but it’s not like you stay up at night thinking about the experience. (Kinda like “light summer reading.”)

Then I played Mass Effect.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who might play ME in the future. It’s a trilogy; the final segment should release in early 2012. (I’m hoping for mid-February so I can sink a few days of Winter Break into it. Lol)

But I can tell you this much: in the Mass Effect universe, choices really matter.

The story is set a few centuries in humanity’s future, when Faster Than Light (FTL) travel permits us to wander the stars. Of course, there’s a new galactic threat on the scene, and you play as the badass Commander Shepard. Old hat so far. I’d call it a role-playing first-person shooter.

The game authors created a conversation mechanism for the game. “Conversing” has been around for a while in games, but BioWare makes Shepard YOURS in significant ways. For one thing, you choose among several respnses as you “talk,” responses which directly affect the attitude of characters or open/close options for future interaction. In real life, if you cuss someone out they are less likely to help you; in Mass Effect, your Shepard constantly has to decide what tactic to use to accomplish goals.

Even more impressive, your game-playing choices bear direct influence on future plot. Blow up someone’s planet? Don’t expect those resources to be around later when you need them. And do expect everyone in the galaxy to treat you with contempt. Except the outlaws, murderers, and pirates. They’ll love it. You will lie in the bed you make (proverbially) and the whole universe has to live with your choices.

Further, the game developers gave Shepard a voice. Whether you create a male or female character, all of the lines were recorded by appropriate voice actors. You spend the game hearing yourself talk. It’s a powerful mechanism for immersion.

Ethical choices stack up. Facing an overwhelming galactic threat, I made certain choices at the end of the first game. Those haunted me through Mass Effect 2, which itself forced me into ever-more-agonizing decisions. By the end of that game, I was questioning my ethics and leadership. Do you save all the lives in the galaxy at all costs? How many lives are “acceptable losses”? War ethics are a mess anyway. Crossing them with intergalactic politics and species magnifies the weaknesses in long-held beliefs, beliefs which affect my actions in the real world.

All good science fiction draws the reader to understand himself more clearly, to see human nature in clear light, to wrestle in a “laboratory” with decisions that would decimate us if we were making them in real life. Mass Effect delivers a rich experience, troubling and thoughtful. Current governments don’t need to fly around the galaxy to find people-groups to abuse, exploit, assist, provoke, or ignore.

I’m not going to replay Mass Effect 2 to get a perfect game or fix my mistakes. Life isn’t like that. I will carry my own Shepard into the final game with his scars intact, with 3 empty slots on the team as a reminder of the cost.

MAss Effect