Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Monsters all

Sorry to continue the theme of our sin and misery...

The Bellingham Herald linked to an article on a Bellevue man who some are accusing of being a former member of a WWII Nazi death squad. (Seattle Times link here) An effort is underway to get Yugoslavia native Peter Egner's citizenship revoked.
"A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges that Egner (now 86 years old) was not a conscript, but instead served as a guard and interpreter with the notorious Nazi-run Security Police and Security Service (SPSS) in Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia) from 1941 through the fall of 1943, when he was wounded. During that time, the complaint stated, his unit participated in the roundup and systematic killings of tens of thousands of Serbian Jews, Gypsies and political dissidents."
Apparently he can't be charged with what they have. I have mixed feelings about this move to revoke his citizenship -- and it doesn't have much to do with pity on an old man.

We should learn from this though. Few in our generation can imagine what kind of person could commit the atrocities attributed to the Nazi's over a decade. What they should realize is that it doesn't take an especially cruel or identifiably "bad" person to participate in cruelty and wickedness. All it takes is human nature. That means we all qualify. That means we are all capable.

Oh, you say, then our environment must be at fault. After all, how could so many people in that era agree implicitly with Hitler's "final solution" unless they were coerced or brainwashed? That is the wrong question. Here is the correct question: How in heaven's name were there actually some that did not go along with Hitler?

You see it doesn't take much for us to rationalize our way out of guilt feelings. One of my favorite stories is one by Shirley Jackson called The Lottery. It's a story everyone should read because it portrays, in my opinion, an incredible portrait of society and individuals who use it to legitimize sin. The scariest part about the story is that Jackson made it so believable.

What makes any of us think we are so special as to be able to resist evil when the whole world is calling it good?


Friday, July 11, 2008

Trained sinners at the table

Sometimes the sanctified life can seem anything but. We like to think, as I mentioned two posts ago, that a victorious life has a linear, storybook line of progress, never allowing for the inconvenient fact of the "law of sin."
"I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." -Romans 7:21-23
This is probably the most inconvenient truth ever to be denied by mankind, even Christians -- a law of sin. Like the law of thermodynamics. Like inertia.

What does this practically mean? Sometimes I look at Paul's explanation of "the evil that I would not," as being inadequate to describe my heart. After all, at least the apostle's will seems to be engaged to correctly combat sin...

But what if the picture I see is more akin to Peter's description of false teachers whose hearts are "trained in covetous practices"? (2 Peter 2:14) That sounds a lot like ordinary selfishness -- the me-first mentality. Actually, it just sounds like me.

Earlier in the passage (2:12), he compares them to "brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed." The image: animals, only inclined toward self-service -- and not just brute instincts. We are trained to covet.

Trained to sin... Don't bother asking who or what trained us. It doesn't matter since we still do the sinning. What matters is that the solution does not reside in us. Not even after initial repentance (via the Holy Spirit's regenerating power). Repentance goes on. It is a vital part of sanctification. New life in Christ means so much more than our justified standing before God's throne of justice. It means, we continue to turn to him for everything.

What else can we say when we are confronted by 1 John 3:7,8?
"Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning."
Is this our doom? What is John trying to say. Who doesn't sin? Are all doomed?

But John is actually revealing the essence of the relationship between law and grace, since Christ is the fulfillment of the law. He goes on in verse 23:
"And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment."
That's when it comes right down to it, trusting in Christ is to be sinless. Sounds bold and daring I suppose. But we already know that in Christ, boldness is supposed to be our attitude when we approach the throne of grace.

Tomorrow, my church is celebrating the Lord's Supper. How will we dare to approach? Aren't we trained sinners? Aren't we inclined toward all evil? And having sinned, aren't we of the devil? Yes, yes and yes. But not in Christ. Indeed, this is the whole point of the table: we are sinners in need of Christ. His command is that we come, as indeed the command to the whole world is to turn and repent and believe in the Name of Jesus Christ. How much more should we, having repented, not obey and come boldly to partake of His grace at His table?

Have you sinned? Don't you dare hide and abstain! Come and be restored. It is His means of grace. It serves no other purpose.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Ich heiße Barack Obama

Ridiculous and transparent.

Barack H. Obama has apparently asked about the possibility of speaking in front of the Brandenburg gate in Berlin during an upcoming trip to Germany.

How pretentious can he get? We already know he's trying to make himself out to be the next Kennedy and Reagan just by virtue of his appeal. Now he wants to seal the deal by doing what both of them did...before he is even president!

What's he going to say at the gate?! "Ich bin ein Berliner"? "Tear down this wall"? Perhaps it would be more appropriate if he just said "Ich bin ein Möchtegern Präsident!" ("I am a wannabe president" loosely translated)

This begs the question, is John McCain guilty of similar pretentiousness? Last week McCain was in Columbia during the successful raid to save hostages from Marxist rebels. The Columbian president personally informed McCain of the impending rescue mission. Pretentious? No, because McCain didn't ask to be in the loop. He was just automatically trusted with the information. Besides, McCain had a personal interest since he spent time as a prisoner of war.

Obama is no JFK. And he would have to start actually communicating something for him to be considered the next "great communicator."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Flawed heroes

My good friend Jason has taken up the pen again for all our benefit -- as opposed to his former professors, that is.

One of his most recent pieces is a "review" of the new Pixar movie "Wall-E" which I found most stimulating. Perhaps it wasn't his main point, but I cherry-picked it anyway for inspiration.

His observation here follows:
" a storyteller, it seems wrong that every story needs to correct every problem. Moreover, it doesn’t seem fair to evaluate every story as declaring its own idealistic version of the world. I do believe that every storyteller is giving you a worldview, but does that require him to “fix” everyone? Some of my stories, for example, contain characters who are never fixed, characters who may be foul-mouthed or drunkards or just downright jerks. And maybe they’re even my heroes. Is that wrong?

...It seems both profitable and wise to train our children to read realistic stories -- stories with heroes whose flaws don’t magically disappear, whose flaws are not always completely vanquished."

These are bold words in our culture. But anyone who has read Flannery O'Connor knows that worthwhile literature often isn't idealistic. This strikes a nerve with me, since I know how prone we are to equating our sanctification with learning to live in a Christian culture. Put another way, I think our need for a "storybook ending" is influenced by more than our idealism, but also by our preference toward works-righteousness in a sense.

We want to see a man conquer evil! We want to see a spiritual Chuck Norris if you will -- a Samson without his Delila, Achilles without the achilles heel. Who really wants to follow "happily ever after" up with a sequel where the hero becomes a villain.

I mean really, if the Christian life were put to a script, it would look exactly like the twelve wandering tribes of Israel -- something quite mundane.

But I digress as usual, since my point is this:

Some Christians set themselves up for stumbling when they find some sin in their life or another’s life that is not easily eradicated. The myth among these people is that we are to live a “victorious life” which basically means they should “experience victory.” Basically they confuse sanctification on earth with a storybook life. They need to remember that just because we have been justified, doesn’t mean we are done with Christ.

Life ain’t always beautiful…but Christ is.