We are All Theologians

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Dear Friend,

I was excited and intrigued the other day when you sent me a text message that stated you were feeling God’s call to be a theologian. I think this is exciting and wonderful and a glorious thing and would love to talk to you more about it in detail. But first I have some preliminary things I want to say.

First, please be aware that we are all theologians. From the most strident atheist to the most devout moralist to the most humble evangelist, all of us humans participate in the study and analysis of God, His attributes, and His relationship with the universe.

The atheist does this through denial. He examines the evidence to the best of his ability, analyzes God, the premises established regarding God’s character, and how God is to relate to the universe (particularly on an individual level), and he denies the existence of a supreme being. For him, something else is more valuable in this universe than any proposed god, particularly a Christian one. For some that is the universe itself. For some it is science. For others it is hedonism. But whatever it is that they decide to attribute supreme value to, then that thing becomes the object of their study and analysis and the defining framework for their lives. In other words, it becomes their god.

The moralist is only slightly different. Like the atheist, moralists have examined the evidence and done some analysis as well but they have concluded that there is a supreme being; however, they may or may not agree that this god is the Christian god. The moralist’s approach this supreme being, though, through the lens of works, not denial. They believe that it is the accumulation of good deeds that gains the favor of the supreme being, so they spend the majority of their lives performing good works in an attempt to outweigh all the bad that they have also done. Moralists, it must be pointed out, can be avid students (or followers) of other religions or they can be non-religious altogether. It doesn’t really matter, because their god is not the supreme being that they acknowledge. It is themselves and the good works that they can accomplish. And they spend their lives organizing their lives around this central ideal.

The last category of theologian, I would argue, is the Christian. This is the most difficult position to maintain, not because there is no evidence to support their position but because they are called to do everything in their lives in such a way as to make Christ appear more valuable than anything else.  Christians are called to live their lives defiantly. To organize their lives around the central principle of “whether through my life or through my death, I will endeavor to display Christ as not only supremely valuable to me but to also make His value and His perfections publicly seen and experienced so clearly through ALL that I do, that He is recognized as supremely valuable over all.” (Php. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 10:31) Such a calling is both convicting and conforming at the same time. For as we seek through our lives to make others see and experience the supreme value, worth, and desirability of God, we find ourselves constantly being challenged to release the selfish ambitions of moralism and the intellectual conceit of atheism so that we may, in humility, put on the mind of Christ and conform more and more to His image (Php. 2:3-8).

We Christians are theologians of a different stripe. We are not called to love ourselves. We are called to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Because we are self-centered people we do love ourselves, as is pointed out in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to love your neighbor. It works off of the assumption that you do and you will love yourself and that this selfish, self-centered action can teach you how you ought to act towards others. Indeed, Jesus paraphrased this command in the famous Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12)

“Christians,” He seems to be saying, “as you study and analyze the attributes and character of God, as you make Him the center of your life (and not yourself) love God so passionately that your love for Him overflows into your love for others…Remember, you are God’s representative on this earth and He makes His appeal to the lost through you.” (2 Cor. 5:20)

Therefore, my dear friend, I would ask you to please consider what you mean when you say, “God is calling me to be a theologian.” If you imagine a theologian to be a deep thinker about God or a seminarian or even a pastor/priest of some kind, that’s all well and good, but please do not fall into the trap of being so intellectually or morally invested in Christianity that you fail to actually apply or live out the truth of the Gospel among the lost. Good theologians are not only good students or good citizens. They are people of defiant faith. The ones who stand up against the tide of a post-truth culture and create a fixed reference point for all those seeking land in a fluid-truth society.

Good theologians are not ashamed. They are full of courage so that Christ is always honored in their body, whether by life or by death (Php. 1:20). They hear the edict, know the consequences of honoring God, and say, “I am trusting in God, and regardless of whether I die or not, I will only worship and serve Him.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Such faith can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments as well as in modern examples, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who faced down the Nazi regime and its horrible atrocities with a steely will and the Word of God.

Make no mistake, my friend, if God is calling you to be a theologian, He is calling you to action. He is calling you to take the Word and show the world how it is not only an efficacious and viable option for life but how it is the supreme framework for living. The absolute truth among many choices. Be aware that such living comes prepackaged with danger and suffering as well as with rewards and the eternal echo of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

God may be calling you to learn more. He may be calling to live better. But please, be the theologian who also “plays the man,” (2 Sa. 10:12) facing down the evil within this world, and making the value and the glory of God shine brightly within the encroaching darkness, whether it be by your life or your death.

Go with God,

Mark

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Daffy Duck and Doing Good

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Heb. 13:16, ESV

Doing good. Sharing. These are things we learned to do in kindergarten. They are what most people would consider “basic moral principles for living.” And they are encouraged across multiple cultures as well as religions. So why is something so universally accepted deemed a sacrifice? Wouldn’t a lifetime of practicing these characteristics make them not sacrificial but habitual? An act of desire, not duty?

Apparently not.

I think what the apostle Paul is getting at is that we human beings are by nature selfish. Like Daffy Duck in the above cartoon, we cling to our stuff, proclaiming, “MINE! MINE! MINE….I’m a happy miser” instead of sharing what we have and doing good. It takes self-discipline, empathy, and compassion to deny ourselves all that is ours and willingly give it to others. Whether that thing is something material or whether it is something immaterial (like a talent or ability), we struggle to selflessly release what we have and share it with others.

Why? Because on some level we always want a form of reimbursement. Some want money.  Others want fame and a life of ease. While still others desire recognition, a returned favor later in life, or even the little warm fuzzy feeling that comes with helping another person in need.

But this venal currency is useless in the kingdom of God.

Echoing Christ’s statement to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the author of Hebrews strikes at the heart of normal human behavior and calls us to exchange reimbursement for pleasing God.

Such end goals make our actions sacrificial.

For as long as we strive to balance what we have given with what we will receive, we remain in a continual state of self-centeredness with a morality that asks, “what’s in it for me?” But when pleasing God is our goal, God receives and transforms our self in His image. No longer do we pursue some form of self-glorification. Instead, we lay aside the self so that the beauty and perfections of Christ shine through our good works and ignite the people of this dark world to lay aside their selves to do the same. (Matt.5 :15-16)

This is the ultimate good: when we share what we have in Christ with another person. It is not only about obeying a certain list of do’s and don’ts or following a moral code of loving your fellow man. It is more than that. It is about proclaiming through our actions and our choices who Christ is and what He has done for us. It is about giving Him the glory at the expense of ourselves. It is about exchanging the “MINE! MINE! MINE!” for a life that proclaims “HIS! HIS! HIS!”

Remember What You Have

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November 10, 2016.

3:43 p.m.

My phone notifies me that my wife has texted me. I am finishing up an appointment with a client and think to myself, “Ok. I’ll call when we’re done.”

3:44 p.m.

My wife calls me on my phone. I decline the call. Whatever she needs is obviously urgent. I begin to hurry my session to a close.

3:45 p.m.

She calls back a second time. This is our signal for 911. I excuse myself from my meeting and answer the call.

“Hello.”

“Mark! You need to leave. Right.  Now. Luke and his friends were crossing the street near the bus stop and have been hit by a pickup. The police say they need a parent on the scene.”

Images of a lifeless, bloody body laying on the ground cloud my mind, making it hard to catch my breath.

“Mark?”

“I’m on it,” I exclaim, rushing out the door with only a brief explanation to my client and our receptionists.

Twenty minutes later I arrive at the scene. The police have gone. The paramedics have left, and a call to my son tells me that he is now at home.

When I walk into the house, I find him sitting at his computer, eating a Pop-Tart.

“Why are you home early,” he asks.

I raise my eyebrows. “Uhhh. Because you were hit by a truck?”

“I’m okay, Dad,” he says. “Really. It’s not that big a deal.” He points to a small abrasion on his wrist that is about an inch in length.

He tells me that he and two of his friends decided to go to the park near our house after getting off of the bus. As they were crossing the street, they noticed a pickup truck stopped at the stop sign facing them. Initially, they waited for him to go, but when he remained stopped, they decided it was safe to cross. However, once they were halfway into the street, the truck began to make his right-hand turn and hit all three of them. My son saw the truck coming and jumped back enough to only be clipped by the vehicle’s side mirror. One of his friends, though, suffered a bruised rib, and the other had two fractured wrists.

I hug my son and breathe a sigh of relief.

Later that night I tell my wife, “You never realize how quickly your life can take a left turn into hell.”

She nuzzles herself into me on the couch and begins a refrain that we will take turns repeating for the rest of the evening: “I’m just so thankful. It could have been much, much worse.”

A week and a half later I am still chilled at the idea of what could have happened, and I find myself randomly thanking God for His protection and grace.

It is a gift I do not deserve. No amount of good deeds could have been exchanged for the life of my son. He is of infinite value and I am a man of limited resources. If God were to weigh me on the scales of justice, I would always be found wanting. And I am acutely aware that there are others in the world who have not been as fortunate as I, so I cannot claim that some cosmic “fairness” is owed to me.  I can only express appreciation and gratitude for being allowed to have my boy, first as a life loaned to me from God and now as a life spared.

But that is the nature of thankfulness, I suppose. One cannot appreciate what he has unless he juxtaposes it against the tragedy of its potential loss. And it is this juxtaposition that lays the foundation for the joy in whatever we have. This is as true for children as it is for jobs, marriages, finances, health, or lessons learned through life.

Too often we forget to measure the breadth and depth of our blessings and falsely presume that they will endure continually. But everything we love, everyone we treasure, every possession we hold dear can vanish in an instant. Everything in life, even life itself, melts away like the morning dew, and if we do not acutely attune ourselves to the transient nature of all our blessings, we will fail to be thankful for what we have been given. Nor will we recognize how God abundantly displays His goodness in our lives.

This holiday season, before you carve the turkey and watch the football game, take time to walk around the house. Reflect on how far you have come over the years. Enjoy how the crisp autumn air has gradually wrapped each tree in thin brown paper. Have a conversation with each person who is at your home. Revisit your favorite memories. Tell a story or two. Laugh with each other.

What is here today can be gone tomorrow.

Remember what you have. And be thankful.

 

 

EXTRA! EXTRA!

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For over a year I have been writing the blog “Living in the Tent.” Initially, I tailored my blog to express how to live a Christian life, both from a theological perspective and a relationship perspective. As a Christian marriage therapist, I felt this would be a great way to blend both of my passions into one expression.

However, as I began to review this blog last month I realized that the majority of my posts on here were more of a devotional nature and less about relationships. I still enjoy writing about how to manage one’s marriage successfully, but I have to recognize that this blog is no longer able to sustain a dual focus. Therefore, I have decided to do the only thing that anyone with a passion for writing, loving God, and helping couples can do…I’m starting a second blog!

This blog will remain intact and continue to deliver the devotional posts that you have been reading. However, my new blog will take up the mantle of providing relationship advice for couples. As anyone can tell you, a wedding is one thing but a marriage is a whole other animal. That is why I decided to create After the Aisle. If any of you are interested in my new blog and the relationship advice that I will be giving there, please click here and check it out. I hope you enjoy it!

5 Minute Therapy: Overcoming Procrastination

procrastination-clipart-procrastinationOk, everyone knows that change is rarely easy but it is often necessary. If you find yourself in one of those seasons of life where change is needed but “things keep getting in the way” or you’re “too busy,” then we need to discuss what is holding you back. We need to talk about procrastination. And since I know that your time is precious, we will only use five minutes or less to discuss this demon and how to overcome it. Continue reading